A SpaceX capsule carrying four astronauts —including the first Black woman to join the International Space Station crew — successfully docked with the ISS Wednesday evening, kicking off a five-month mission.
This mission, called Crew-4, marks a return to the crewed launches that SpaceX conducts in partnership with NASA after the company concluded the first all-private mission to the space station for wealthy paying customers on Monday.
On board is Jessica Watkins the first Black woman to join the space station crew for an extended stay. Though more than a dozen Black Americans — including four Black women — have traveled to space since Guion Bluford became the first to do so in 1983, no Black woman has had the opportunity to live and work in space for an extended period, as the ISS has enabled more than 200 astronauts to do since 2000.
“This is certainly an important milestone I think both for our [space] agency and for the country,” Watkins said during a press conference last month. “I think it really is just a tribute to the legacy of the black women astronauts that have come before me as well as to the exciting future ahead.”
Watkins, age 33, is from Lafayette, CO, and will serve as a mission specialist. This is her first mission into space.
As a child, Watkins had always been inspired by iconic astronauts like Mae Jemison, the first Black woman in space, and Sally Ride, the first American woman in space. She earned a bachelor’s degree in geological and environmental sciences at Stanford University. There she was a member of the rugby team. After Stanford, Watkins earned a Ph.D. in geology at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Since 2017, Watkins has been an astronaut at NASA where she worked in its research centers, particularly on the Mars rover Curiosity. Her mission next year will be her first mission in space.
After the ISS, Watkins, who had a background in geology and the surface of Mars, said she is also interested in traveling to Mars soon.