Jessica Watkins is on her way to mark an out-of-this-world milestone.
Early Wednesday morning, Watkins made history as the first Black woman to hit the sky for an extended mission at the International Space Station.
Watkins ― who previously worked as a geologist after earning a bachelor’s degree from Stanford University and a doctorate from the University of California, Los Angeles ― blasted off with three other astronauts from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida to embark on a long-term space mission.
“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 said in an interview with NPR before her mission.
Watkins, born in Maryland, began her career as a NASA intern before working at multiple research centers in California. She was a postdoctoral fellow on the science team for the Mars Science Laboratory rover Curiosity during her astronaut selection in 2017.
As part of the current Crew-4 mission, Watkins plans to conduct scientific research, perform station maintenance and undergo training while orbiting the Earth. The crew is scheduled for a six-month stint in the ISS laboratory.
Watkins is working alongside NASA astronauts Kjell Lindgren and Bob Hines and European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti.
She’s hopeful about the future of space exploration for women of color.
“We have reached this milestone, this point in time, and the reason that we’re able to arrive at this time is because of the legacy of those who have come before to allow for this moment,” Watkins said in a previous interview with NBC News.
“This is a step in the direction of a very exciting future,” she added. “So to be a part of that is certainly an honor.”