Nasa astronaut Jessica Watson will be the first Black woman aboard the International Space Station

NASA astronaut Jessica Watkins poses for a portrait, Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020, in the Blue Flight Control Room at NASA???s Johnson Space Center in Houston. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)
Nasa astronaut Jessica Watkins (Credits: Nasa/Bill Ingalls)

Nasa astronaut Jessica Watkins is on her way to making history as the first Black woman to join a mission to the International Space Station (ISS) as a crewmember.

On Tuesday, Nasa announced that Watkins would be one of the members on an upcoming SpaceX Crew-4 mission, set to launch in April next year.

She will join two other Nasa astronauts and an Italian astronaut for a six-month mission aboard the orbital lab.

The ISS has been in orbit for 21 years but only seven of the 249 people who have been there were Black, reported The New York Times.

Watkins, who started her career at Nasa as an intern, told the New York Times that she hopes this would set an ‘example of ways that they can participate and succeed’ for young girls of colour.

Watkins is a geologist who was raised in Colorado and went to Stanford University for her undergraduate degree. She then pursued her doctorate studying landslides on Mars and Earth, from the University of California, Los Angeles.

Jessica Watkins - 2017 NASA Astronaut Candidate - Jessica Watkins. Photo Date: June 6, 2017. Location: Ellington Field - Hangar 276, Tarmac. Photographer: Robert Markowitz - https://www.nasa.gov/image-feature/astronaut-jessica-watkins
Jessica Watkins is one of the astronauts assigned to Nasa’s Artemis program. (Credits: Robert Markowitz)

She has previously worked with Nasa on projects including the Mars Curiosity rover mission. The April mission will be her first trip to space after being selected as an astronaut in 2017. 

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.

Only last year, Nasa sent its first Black astronaut, Victor Glover, to the ISS on a long-term mission that lasted more than just a couple of weeks.

In 2018, Jeanette Epps came close to being the first Black woman to live and work on the space station but was replaced by another astronaut for reasons unexplained by Nasa. 

In September, Sian Proctor, a member of SpaceX’s Inspiration4 amateur astronaut mission that went to orbit but not to the space station, became the first Black woman to serve as a spacecraft pilot.

NASA astronaut Jessica Watkins (L) waves at the audience during during the astronaut graduation ceremony at Johnson Space Center in Houston Texas, on January 10, 2020. - The 13 astronauts, 11 from NASA and 2 from CSA, are the first candidates to graduate under the Artemis program and will become eligible for spaceflight, including assignments to the International Space Station, Artemis missions to the Moon, and ultimately, missions to Mars, according to NASA. (Photo by Mark Felix / AFP) (Photo by MARK FELIX/AFP via Getty Images)
Jessica Watkins waves at the audience during the astronaut graduation ceremony at Johnson Space Center in Houston Texas, on January 10, 2020. (AFP)

Last year, Watkins was among the astronauts Nasa named to represent the agency’s moon mission to put the first woman and the first person of colour on the surface of the moon in 2025. 

The 13 astronauts, 11 from Nasa and 2 from CSA, were the first candidates to graduate under the Artemis program who would be eligible for spaceflight, including assignments to the International Space Station, Artemis missions to the Moon, and ultimately, missions to Mars.

Nasa’s moon mission during the Apollo program was all white men and the agency is seeking to make its astronaut programs more representative of the American population in recent times.

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