NASA astronaut Jessica Watkins to become first Black woman on ISS crew

NASA astronaut Jessica Watkins puts on a spacesuit ahead of underwater training at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston.
NASA astronaut Jessica Watkins puts on a spacesuit ahead of underwater training at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. (Image credit: NASA/DavidDeHoyos)

NASA astronaut Jessica Watkins is making history as the first Black woman to be on an International Space Station crew and she might even make it to the moon in the future.

Watkins launched to the station this morning (April 27) as part of SpaceX's Crew-4 mission alongside NASA astronauts Kjell Lindgren, the mission's commander, and Robert Hines as well as European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti. The crew lifted off this morning aboard the new SpaceX Dragon capsule Freedom and are on track to dock with the station around 8:15 p.m. EDT tonight (0015 GMT on April 28).

With this mission, which will see the crew spend about six months aboard the station. Watkins will be the first Black woman astronaut to be a part of a crew aboard the International Space Station. This might not be the last time she makes history, as Watkins is one of NASA's Artemis astronauts who could fly to and land on the moon.

"I think it's important to recognize this as a milestone for our agency and for our country, as well, to know that we are building on the foundation that was laid by the Black woman astronauts who've come before me," Watkins told NPR's Morning Edition earlier this year about flying with Crew-4. "I'm definitely honored to be a small part of that legacy, but ultimately be an equal member of the crew."

Live updates: SpaceX's Crew-4 astronaut mission for NASA
In pictures: Amazing launch photos of SpaceX's Crew-4 launch

Making her first flight to space with Crew-4, Watkins is the fifth Black woman in history to fly to space, following NASA astronauts Mae Jemison, Stephanie Wilson, Joan Higginbotham and private astronaut Sian Proctor. 

There remain two Black women in NASA's astronaut corps who have not yet flown to space: Yvonne Cagle and Jeanette Epps. Epps is currently scheduled to fly to space with Boeing's Starliner capsule, the company's parallel to SpaceX's Dragon.

Following her historic mission aboard the space station, Watkins' next stop could be the moon.

NASA's Artemis program aims to return humans to the moon's surface for the first time since the Apollo program's last lunar landing in 1972. The first mission of this program, an uncrewed test flight called Artemis 1, is set to launch this year. 

Related: Victor Glover becomes 1st Black astronaut to arrive at space station for long-term stay

Watkins is one of NASA's astronauts on the Artemis team, meaning she is eligible to be chosen for one of the Artemis crewed missions, possibly even the first Artemis moon landing. As a geologist, Watkins has shared her excitement at the possibility of one day landing on the moon. 

"We've looked at lots of images and even looked at samples that the Apollo astronauts brought back," she told NPR. "But to be able to be a real field geologist on the surface of another planet would just be unreal."

This will not only be the first moon landing since 1972, NASA has also stated that, with its Artemis program, it aims to land the first woman and the first person of color on the moon.

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Chelsea Gohd
Senior Writer

Chelsea “Foxanne” Gohd joined in 2018 and is now a Senior Writer, writing about everything from climate change to planetary science and human spaceflight in both articles and on-camera in videos. With a degree in Public Health and biological sciences, Chelsea has written and worked for institutions including the American Museum of Natural History, Scientific American, Discover Magazine Blog, Astronomy Magazine and Live Science. When not writing, editing or filming something space-y, Chelsea "Foxanne" Gohd is writing music and performing as Foxanne, even launching a song to space in 2021 with Inspiration4. You can follow her on Twitter @chelsea_gohd and @foxannemusic.