Courtesy: NASA

One small step for women, one giant leap for womankind! After NASA’s 63-year history, Dr. Jessica Watkins is going to be NASA’s first Black female astronaut to join the crew for a long-term mission to the international space station.

On Tuesday, NASA announced that Dr. Watkins would serve as a mission specialist on the SpaceX Crew-4 flight to the International Space Station. The six-month trip is slated for April 2022. 

In an interview with The New York Times, Dr. Watkins said that she hoped to serve as a role model for future children. “Particularly young girls of color, to be able to see an example of ways that they can participate and succeed,” she said.

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.”

Colorado-born Watkins is a geologist who got her undergraduate degree at Stanford University and her doctorate at UCLA with a concentration in landslides on Mars and Earth. She joined the astronauts corps in 2017, but worked for NASA before that on science labs and other projects like the Mars Science Curiosity rover mission. 

In 2020, Dr. Watkins was one of 18 astronauts that NASA picked for their Artemis program — the program designed with the objective of “returning astronauts to the lunar surface.” One of the goals for the program was to send the first woman and the first person of color to the moon’s surface.

So far, NASA has only landed white men on the moon’s surface. The explicit purpose behind the Artemis program is to provide “inspiration for a new generation of explorers.” But now, the agency is attempting to make their astronaut programs more diverse. 

Since its inception in 2000, only seven Black people have boarded the space station. For reference, there have been 249 visitors in total. Last year, navy commander and test pilot Victor Glover started a long-term mission at the station, making him the first Black person to participate in a long-term mission. Dr. Watkins is breaking her own glass ceiling by being the first Black woman. 

Dr. Watkins admitted to the Times that she had dreamed about being an astronaut since she was little, but it was “definitely not something [she] thought would ever happen.”

Dr. Watkins has already been preparing for the mission, participating in spacewalk simulations at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston and learning about the football-field sized space station that will be her home for six months next year. 

And while Dr. Watkins is excited and grateful to be the first Black female astronaut to join a long-term mission for NASA, she is primarily focused on doing a good job. 

“It is certainly not lost on me that we’ve arrived in this moment in history,” she told the New York Times. “This moment is not as worthwhile if we are not able to focus on the job and perform well.”