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Jessica Watkins Will Be the First Black Woman to Join the International Space Station Crew

astronaut Jessica Watkins

Dr. Jessica Watkins will make history as the first Black woman to join the crew of the International Space Station. The NASA astronaut will be a Mission Specialist on an upcoming SpaceX Crew-4 mission that will launch in April 2022 for a six month stay on the ISS.

She was selected by NASA to join the 2017 Astronaut Candidate Class, and has worked at NASA’s Ames Research Center and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. In addition, Watkins was a science team collaborator for NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory rover, Curiosity.

Watkins has a doctorate in Geology from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and completed her undergraduate education at Stanford University, where she earned a Bachelor of Science in Geological and Environmental Sciences. She said that she hoped to inspire children of color, and “particularly young girls of color, to be able to see an example of ways that they can participate and succeed.” She continued, “For me, that’s been really important, and so if I can contribute to that in some way, that’s definitely worth it.”

Watkins said that becoming an astronaut was “something I dreamed about for a very long time ever since I was pretty little, but definitely not something I thought would ever happen.” She said of her upcoming ISS mission, “It is certainly not lost on me that we’ve arrived in this moment in history, … This moment is not as worthwhile if we are not able to focus on the job and perform well.”


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Of the 249 astronauts who have boarded the ISS, only seven were Black. Just last year, astronaut Victor Glover became the first Black crew member on a long-term mission aboard the International Space Station. In 2018, NASA astronaut Jeanette Epps was set to become the first Black woman aboard the ISS, but she was later replaced by another astronaut. NASA never gave a statement as to why she was replaced, and at the time Epps’s brother blamed it on racism and misogyny at NASA. Epps is currently scheduled to fly on Boeing’s Starliner capsule to the station; however, the Boeing flight has been delayed due to technical issues during test launch.

Watkins is also one of 18 astronauts to join the Artemis program, a select group that will be participating in research missions on the moon. The program will see the first woman and the first person of color ever to land on the moon in 2025. And depending on the scheduling and the outcome of this SpaceX mission, Watkins could make history as both.

Dr. Watkins received congratulations from friends and colleagues on social media:

(via New York Times, image: NASA)

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Chelsea was born and raised in New Orleans, which explains her affinity for cheesy grits and Britney Spears. An pop culture journalist since 2012, her work has appeared on Autostraddle, AfterEllen, and more. Her beats include queer popular culture, film, television, republican clownery, and the unwavering belief that 'The Long Kiss Goodnight' is the greatest movie ever made. She currently resides in sunny Los Angeles, with her husband, 2 sons, and one poorly behaved rescue dog. She is a former roller derby girl and a black belt in Judo, so she is not to be trifled with. She loves the word “Jewess” and wishes more people used it to describe her.