Watkins, 33, a geologist from Colorado, made history on Wednesday by becoming the first Black woman launched into space for an extended mission on the International Space Station. She is only the fifth Black woman to travel to space.
“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 told NPR’s Morning Edition.
According to Space.com, she and three other astronauts, as part of SpaceX’s Crew-4 mission launched into space from the Kennedy Space Center on Merritt Island, Florida, at 3:52 a.m. EDT. Aboard the new SpaceX Dragon capsule named Freedom, the astronauts are due to dock with the station around 8:15 p.m. EDT Thursday night, April 28.
Last November, NASA announced Watkins would be the fourth and final seat on Crew Dragon for SpaceX’s Crew-4 mission.
The assignment meant she would be the first Black woman to join an ISS crew for scientific research, station maintenance, training and more over a six-month period, USA Today reported. Previously, Victor Glover, part of SpaceX’s Crew-2 mission that launched in November 2020, became the first Black astronaut to join a station crew.
Out of 248 astronauts who have visited the space station, only seven have been Black.
“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. “I’m definitely honored to be a small part of that legacy, but ultimately be an equal member of the crew.”
NASA also announced last year that Watkins was chosen for the Artemis program that aims to put astronauts back on the moon no later than 2025. The first moon landing since 1972, NASA has stated that, with its Artemis program, it aims to land the first woman and the first person of color on the moon.