Jessica Watkins - Astronaut

Jessica Watkins - Astronaut

Jessica Watkins is an American NASA astronaut, geologist, aquanaut and former international rugby player. She was announced as the first black woman to complete a long-duration mission aboard the International Space Station (ISS) in April 2022..

A native of Colorado, she received her B.S. in Geological and Environmental Sciences from Stanford University and her Ph.D. in Geology from the University of California - Los Angeles (UCLA).

An avid athlete and rugby fan, she began her career in the sport during her freshman year at Stanford. She remained on the team for four years.

In 2008, during her sophomore year, she was a member of the Division I National Champion team. After that, she became a member of the first team collegiate rugby All-American.

A former U.S. Women's National Rugby Sevens player, she played for the USA Eagles, the U.S. Women's Rugby Sevens team, in their third place finish at the Rugby Sevens World Cup in 2009. There she was the top try scorer for the US team.

In June 2017, she was selected by NASA to join the astronaut candidate class of 2017. She began her service in August of that year and then completed two years of training as an astronaut candidate.

She conducts research on the mechanisms of setting up large landslides on Mars and Earth, works at NASA's Ames Research Center and Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and collaborates with the Mars Science Laboratory's Curiosity rover science team.

Watkins is currently a mission specialist on NASA's SpaceX Crew-4 mission to the International Space Station, launching April 27, 2022. This will be his first time in space.

For this six-month mission, her role is to observe and photograph geological changes on Earth, as well as conduct other investigations into Earth and space science, biological science, and the effects of long-duration spaceflight on humans. This assignment means she will be the first black woman to join an ISS crew on a long-term basis for scientific research, station maintenance, training and more.

To wit: previously, Victor Glover, who was part of SpaceX's Crew-2 mission launched in November 2020, became the first black astronaut to join a station crew. Of the 248 astronauts who have visited the ISS, only seven were black and none were included in multi-month expeditions.

In 1983, Guion Bluford became the first black astronaut to go into space. Mae Jemison followed in his footsteps nine years later and then became the first black woman to go into space.

In June 2019, she participated in the NEEMO 23 mission, which tested technologies and objectives for a deep space mission and lunar explorations on the ocean floor. This NEEMO mission was the first of its kind to have an all-female research team, led by Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti.

In December 2020, she was selected to join NASA's Artemis team, alongside 18 other astronauts, 8 of whom are women. The goal of this mission is to have men and women walk on the moon again by 2025.

Being on this team therefore offers her the opportunity to be one of the nine astronauts who will be selected to go into space, but more importantly, to become the first woman and the first black woman to walk on the Moon.

Watkins is a strong advocate for the place and representation of black women in astronautics. She is the fifth black woman to go into space, and could become the first black woman to land on the moon.

At a press conference for an ISS mission, she says, "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"

In another interview, she expresses wanting to inspire other children, especially young girls of color. "For me, growing up, it was important to me to have role models in roles that I aspire to be in, contributing in ways I aspired to contribute. So to the extent that I'm able to do that, I'm honored and grateful for the opportunity to return the favor."

Jessica Watkins has received numerous awards for her career, academic and athletic achievements. Some of these include the Stanford Earth Early Award in 2018, the Caltech Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences President's Postdoctoral Fellowship in 2015, the AGEP Postdoctoral Fellowship in 2015, the NASA Group Achievement Award in 2015, the UCLA Department of Earth and Space Sciences Harold and Mayla Sullwold Fellowship (awarded for academic excellence and outstanding original research) in 2012, the National Science Foundation Geoscience Research Fellowship in 2012, the Geological Society of America Geoscience Minority Research Fellowship in 2011, the UCLA Chancellor's Award, or the California Space Grant Consortium Award in 2010.