U.S. astronaut Jessica Watkins made history on Wednesday as the first African-American woman to be launched on the International Space Station (ISS) for an extended mission to space.
Watkins, 33, is among a crew of three other astronauts who made their way into space from the Kennedy Space Center on Merritt Island, Florida.
“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 an interview with NPR. “So to the extent that I’m able to do that, I’m honored and grateful for the opportunity to return the favor.
The SpaceX Crew-4 mission team will use the extended mission “for scientific research, station maintenance, training and moreover a six-month period,” according to USA Today.
“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 said. “I’m definitely honored to be a small part of that legacy, but ultimately be an equal member of the crew.”
Watkins will be the fifth Black woman to have gone to space, right behind groundbreaking astronauts such as Mae Jemison Joan Higginbotham, Stephanie Wilson, and Sian Proctor.
“I think part of it is really the logistics of timing, but I also think maybe it is reflective or indicative of maybe a more systemic issue that we are seeing in our country where there’s a bit of a pipeline problem if you will,” Watkins said in an interview with Good Morning America.
Last year, Watkins was also chosen by NASA for the Artemis program that aims to put astronauts back on the moon no later than 2025.