Jessica Watkins made history on Wednesday by becoming the first Black woman launched into space for an extended mission on the International Space Station. Watkins and three other astronauts rocketed into space from the Kennedy Space Centre on Merritt Island, Florida at 3:52 a.m. EDT.
NASA announced Watkins would be the fourth and final seat on Crew Dragon for SpaceX’s Crew-4 mission, last November. The assignment meant she would be the first Black woman to join an ISS crew for scientific research, station maintenance, training and moreover a six-month period. Previously, Victor Glover became the first Black astronaut to join a station crew. Glover was a part of SpaceX’s Crew-2 mission that launched in November 2020.
Only seven have been Black and none were included in expeditions lasting several months, out of 248 astronauts who have visited the ISS. Guion Bluford became the first Black astronaut to travel to space, in 1983. Mae Jemison followed nine years later and became the first Black woman to do the same.
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. Wednesday’s flight sent NASA’s Bob Hines, Kjell Lindgren, and the European Space Agency’s Samantha Cristoforetti to orbit.They’re expected to dock at the ISS at 8:15 p.m. EDT if schedules hold.