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Former JPL Staffer to Become First Black Woman on Space Station Crew

Published on Wednesday, November 17, 2021 | 6:11 pm

Dr. Jessica Watkins. [Photo courtesy of NASA]
Rookie NASA astronaut Jessica Watkins, who holds a doctorate from UCLA and previously worked at Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, will serve aboard the International Space Station next year, becoming the first Black woman to be part of the crew aboard the orbiting station.

Watkins will be a member of the fourth crew launched to the station by Hawthorne-based Space-X under a commercial contract with NASA. A geologist by trade, Watkins will serve as a mission specialist as a member of Crew-4, according to NASA.

She joins NASA astronauts Kjell Lindgren and Robert Hines and European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti. They are scheduled to launch in April 2022 in a Crew Dragon spacecraft powered into space by a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

The crew will spend six months on the space station, making Watkins the first Black woman to serve extended duty in outer space. Other Black women have flown in space, but have never served as a long-term member of the space station crew.

According to NASA, Watkins was born in Maryland but grew up in Lafayette, Colorado. She has a bachelor’s degree in geological and environmental sciences from Stanford University and a doctorate in geology from UCLA, where she graduate research focused on “the emplacement mechanisms of large landslides on Mars and Earth.”

She interned at NASA and then worked at the space agency’s Ames Research Center and at JPL. She was also a postdoctoral fellow in the Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences at Caltech, working on the Mars rover Curiosity. She was also a volunteer assistant coach for the Caltech women’s basketball team.

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  • I love it when we all can thrive and be our best, and not only be free to nurture our gifts, but to be able to use them.