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All space missions are significant. However, SpaceX's Crew-4 mission, which docked at the International Space Station (ISS) on April 28, 2022, was particularly historic. The approximately 16-hour flight was SpaceX's fastest Dragon astronaut trip to the space lab yet. More importantly, the crew of four included Jessica Watkins — the first African American woman assigned to the ISS on a long-term mission.
"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's Morning Edition. "I'm definitely honored to be a small part of that legacy, but ultimately be an equal member of the crew.
Watkins and her two fellow NASA astronauts — Kjell Lindgren and Bob Hines — and Samantha Cristoforetti from the European Space Agency (ESA) will spend six months aboard the ISS. They will conduct scientific research, station maintenance, and training.
Watkins is the fifth Black female to go to space. The first was NASA astronaut Mae Jemison, who was part of the space shuttle Endeavor crew that orbited Earth for eight days, from September 12, 1992, to September 20, 1992. The second, Stephanie Wilson, went to the ISS on three missions between 2006 and 2010. Until Watkins' latest assignment, Wilson held the record (42 days total) for the most time spent at the ISS by a female African American astronaut.
Joan Higginbotham, the third Black female astronaut in space, spent 13 days at the ISS in December 2006. The fourth, Dr. Sian Proctor, was one of four civilians selected for SpaceX's privately-chartered Inspiration4 mission in 2021. The spacecraft circled Earth for three days at an altitude of about 367 miles (590 kilometers).
The ISS mission may be just the start of Watkins' historic space expeditions. The 33-year-old geologist is part of NASA's Artemis program to land humans on the Moon again. Watkins has an excellent chance of being selected, given the mission's goals of landing the first woman and the first person of color on the Moon. Stephanie Wilson is also in contention for the coveted spot. We hope both trailblazers are selected for the epic mission.
Resources: NASA.gov, Space.com, Wikipedia.org, NPR.org