Watkins has been training for the mission, where she will live and work for an extended stay, NPR reported. Watkins will be taken to ISS by way of a SpaceX capsule sent out as part of NASA’s multi-billion dollar Artemis program aimed at returning humans to the moon in 2025.
“WE ARE BUILDING ON THE FOUNDATION THAT WAS LAID BY THE BLACK WOMEN ASTRONAUTS WHO HAVE COME BEFORE ME,” WATKINS SAID. “I’M DEFINITELY HONORED TO BE A SMALL PART OF THAT LEGACY, BUT ULTIMATELY BE AN EQUAL MEMBER OF THE CREW.”
Of the 250 astronauts who have boarded the ISS, only 10 have been Black, and very few of them Black women. Mae Jemison became the first Black woman to travel to space in 1992, paving the way for other Black female NASA astronauts like Stephanie Wilson and Joan Higginbotham.
During Watkins’ six-month mission, the Stanford University alumnus will research things such as the effects of long-duration spaceflight for humans as well as observe and photograph geological changes on Earth. The mission comes five years after Watkins was selected to join NASA’s astronaut program in 2017.
She got through an extensive training period that included wearing a puffy white suit in an underwater ISS mockup pool in preparation for her spacewalk. Watkins has also been trained on how to fix anything that isn’t working properly.
“We are all coming together to accomplish this really hard thing that none of us would be able to do on our own,” Watkins said. “I think that is just such a beautiful picture of what we can all do if we come together and put all of our resources and skill sets together.”