Photo via: NASA
On June 4th, 1987, Mae Jemison became the first African American woman to be accepted into NASA's astronaut training program. Now 30 years later, there's another woman in STEM following in her footsteps, who could become the sixth Black woman astronaut. Her name is Jessica Watkins and she's already blazed her own trail as the only Black woman to be selected for NASA's 2017 Astronaut Candidate Class.
NASA announced on Wednesday that they chose 12 individuals out of a record number of 18,300 applicants. Watkins is the only Black woman who made it among the exclusive group, as well as the youngest member of the largest NASA class since 2000.
The 29 year-old geologist was born in Gaithersburg, Maryland and raised in Lafayette, Colorado. After graduating from Boulder, Colorado's Fairview High School, Watkins went on to obtain her Bachelor's degree in Geological and Environmental Sciences from Stanford University, and a Doctorate in Geology from the University of California, Los Angeles.
Her acceptance into NASA's astronaut training program seems to be a full circle moment, as Watkins has dreamed of becoming an astronaut since she was nine years old. She was also an intern at NASA's Ames Research Center during her undergraduate years. According to NASA, while there, she "conducted research supporting the Phoenix Mars Lander mission and prototype Mars drill testing."
Watkins continued interning for NASA in various areas during her graduate studies, and was even named the chief geologist for the NASA Spaceward Bound Crew 86 at the Mars Research Station in 2009. Upon completion of her doctorate degree, Watkins became a postdoctoral fellow in California Institute of Technology's Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences, where she worked on the Mars Curiosity Rover.
When Watkins completes NASA's two-year astronaut training program she will be the sixth Black woman to become an astronaut, joining the ranks of Mae Jemison (the first African American woman to travel into space), Stephanie Wilson, Yvonne Cagle, Joan Higginbotham, and Jeanette J. Epps, who is set to become the first African American crew member of the International Space Station.
"I’m very excited about the diversity on this team, this amazing group of people. I think that says a lot about NASA and their goals towards creating a diverse workforce," Watkins told Blastr. “I think the thing about diversity is that it allows for experiences that may not be exactly the same to bring different things to the table. And then the other side of that... is the idea of being able to be a face to others who may not see people who look like them in STEM fields in general, and doing cool things like going to space."
Congratulations, Jessica! Thank you for blazing a trail and inspiring young girls who look like you to pursue STEM fields.