You might not have known her name a few weeks ago, but by now you are well aware that on April 27, 2022, Jessica Watkins became the first Black woman to be on an International Space Station crew. Victor Glover was the first Black astronaut to join a space station crew in November 2020. In 1983, Guion Bluford was the first Black astronaut ever to travel to space.
The young 33-year-old and 3 other astronauts (NASA astronauts Kjell Lindgren, the mission’s commander, Robert Hines, as well as European Space Agency astronaut, Samantha Cristoforetti) left Kennedy Space Center on Merritt Island, Florida, as part of the Crew Drago for SpaceX Crew. They went for scientific research, station maintenance, and training.
Watkins is one of 7 Black astronauts out of the 248 that have visited the space station. It is historical because, according to NASA’s announcement, she is part of their Artemis program to get astronauts back into space no later than 2025.
“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,” Watkins said in a recent NPR interview. “So to the extent that I’m able to do that, I’m honored and grateful for the opportunity to return the favor.”
Watkins, although she is the first Black woman to be on an International Space Station crew, could very well end up on the moon (the first time astronauts would be on the moon since the Apollo program in 1972). “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.
I, too, see this as a huge step for representation. Young and old Black children and adults need to see more of us in high-profile and important roles like this. We need Watkins and other Black and brown role models to pave the way and prove that it is possible. We need this story — and many others — to inspire generations to shoot for the moon, and quite literally, land upon the stars.
“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 a couple months ago. “I’m definitely honored to be a small part of that legacy, but ultimately be an equal member of the crew.”
Maybe the space-based film studios coming up will help make representation more prominent.
Photo via John Raoux for AP