Dr. Jessica Watkins, a NASA astronaut, will become the first Black woman to serve aboard the International Space Station when the SpaceX Crew-4 blasts off on Wednesday (April 27).
NASA lists Watkins as the mission specialist for the rescheduled science expedition trip. The former NASA intern will live and work aboard the space station for close to six months where she will conduct spacewalks, and work on scientific research in the space station’s microgravity environment.
She and her crew were supposed to journey into outer space on Saturday (April 22), however, the space agency mentioned in a blog post it decided to push back the trip further into the week when space station positioning and orbital mechanics are more favorable.
Watkins will become the fifth Black woman to have gone to space. She joins trailblazers Mae Jemison, Sian Proctor, Stephanie Wilson, and Joan Higginbotham.
In an interview with NBC News in January, Watkins discussed the significance of her presence at the space station.
“We have reached this milestone, this point in time, and the reason we’re able to arrive at this time is because of the legacy of those who have come before to allow for this moment,” Watkins said. “Also, recognizing this is a step in the direction of a very exciting future. So to be a part of that is certainly an honor.”
“Growing up and throughout my career, it’s been really important for me to see people who look like me or have my background or similar experiences in the roles that I aspire to or contributing in ways that I aspire to contribute,” Watkins added. “To the extent that I am able to do that for other young girls or young people of color, I’m grateful for the opportunity to return the favor.”
Watkins held several positions as a chief geologist, a science operations team member, and a researcher before she was selected as a member of NASA’s Astronaut Group 22 in June 2017. In addition to being assigned to the mission to the International Space Station, the 33-year-old has also been selected to be a part of the Artemis Team to return humans to the moon. Her trip to the moon is expected to launch in 2024.
According to a recent report by the Space Frontier Foundation, nearly 90% of people who have been to space are white men. The report also found that white people in the space industry are more likely to receive six-figure salaries than their Black counterparts.
Salute to Jessica Watkins for breaking barriers! Watch her trip Wednesday (April 27) live from Kennedy Space Center via NASA.com.