Jessica Watkins shares historic journey on space station


Jessica Watkins describes herself as “nerd stonewith a PhD in geology. So when she went on her first space mission as a member of the NASA crew, she brought along photos of family and friends — and some rocks.

“Of course, I have to,” Watkins, 34 years old, said in an interview during her time stay six months aboard the International Space Station, launching with her SpaceX Crew-4 teammates in April before returning to Earth in October.

Her journey made history. Watkins became the fifth black woman to ever travel into space and The first to join the space station expedition. She became an official crew member of the organized orbital laboratory more than 260 people in its nearly 23-year history.

As a young girl, Watkins dreamed of going to space and even wrote a poem titled “My Little Astronaut,” describing that ambition in elementary school, her mother speak CNN link WESH-TV in Orlando before his daughter’s mission.

Watkins said in an interview in January that that wish has come true thanks to the enthusiasm she has brought to her academic pursuits. And Watkins hopes she can pass that knowledge on to young people who aspire to be like her.

“One of the most important things you can share is the importance of dreaming big,” says Watkins, “and actually being able to find your way — finding something you’re passionate about. .”

She has previously described her love for geology, noting that it allows her to function “like a detective”.

“You’re looking at different pieces of the puzzle, you know, (in) all kinds of (of) different places,” Watkins said in a NASA videotapes. “And you’re trying to put those pieces of the puzzle together to get a full story, a full history of what happened in a particular place.”

Watkins (from left) and crew members Bob Hines, Kjell Lindgren and Samantha Cristoforetti step out of the crew quarters at Kennedy Space Center before their launch to the space station on April 27.

Diversity representation remains an issue in the space program, but opportunities for women and people of color are increasing. Watkins’ class of astronauts, selected by NASA in 2017, is one of the most diverse in the space agency’s history, and she hopes she can leave the door open for others.

“I see places where I wish there was more representation, but I definitely feel the impact of representation that already exists,” says Watkins. It’s valuable to “meet people who look like me, who have my background and experience, in the roles I aspire to be, and contribute in the ways that I would like to contribute.”

She considers astronaut Mae Jemison, the first black woman to travel to space, a key figure, and she drew inspiration from her parents and family members as well as teachers. me and the mentors she’s met along the way.

“That will definitely be a priority for me,” she said, “to be able to reach out and connect with the community that I hope does a good job representing.”

Watkins grew up in Lafayette, Colorado and received his undergraduate degree from Stanford University. She initially studied mechanical engineering in the hope that it would help her pursue her dream of being an astronaut.

But it’s “not my passion,” she said in a NASA broadcast from space. “That’s not something got me out of bed every morning.”

But perusing Stanford’s course catalog, she discovered that geology classes on finding habitable planets interested her.

“Especially the idea of ​​planetary geology, the idea of ​​being able to study rocks on the surface of another planet,” she says, “completely fascinates me and remains to this day.”

At Stanford, Watkins became a prominent football star. As a sophomore, she scored the winning goal in Stanford’s 2008 national title game. As a result, her grandmother told CNN affiliate WESH that she initially thought Watkins was destined to be one of the game’s best players.

Watkins takes notes during his geology training in Arizona in 2019.

In hindsight, Watkins said, immersing herself in the dynamics of a team sport as well as studying helped prepare her for the rigors of spaceflight.

“The international cooperation needed to do what we do here every day is exactly that,” she said.

Watkins spent two years on basic astronaut training and another two years preparing for his space station voyage. Board a spaceship carrying her and three crew members into orbit, the first is a pinch-me moment. But months of dedicated practice make it seem like a habit.

“It’s kind of an interesting mix of emotions, when you’re sitting there on a rocket about to launch,” Watkins told CNN. “But really, the launch itself was fantastic. And by the time the actual launch happens, you’re completely focused on the operational side of things.”

During their time on the space station, Watkins and her comrades worked closely with the Russian cosmonauts, a mission of increasing geopolitical significance as the war in Ukraine heightened tensions. relations between the United States and Russia.

“We can have dinner together, spend time with them, and we really become a family to them,” Watkins told CNN. “We are all there to successfully and safely carry out our missions. … We really have that in common.”

Watkins has been involved in hundreds of space station research projects, including a botanic investigation focusing on plant new trees in space. Food has always been an important topic for astronauts, Watkins is also known during his time here for inventing the macaroni and cheese hamburger taco — dubbed the “Wattyburger.”

Among the surprising experiences in space, Watkins found the microgravity environment was expanding to her dreams within weeks of her stay on the station.

“They’re not in space, they’re happening in space,” she said. “You know what a dream is like — you can remember, ‘Oh, yeah, we’re definitely floating, so we’ve got to be in space. But since coming back to this Earth, I don’t think I’ve ever dreamed about being in space. So I guess my brain and body figured it out.

To pass the time when research projects or routine maintenance don’t take up too much of her calendar, Watkins said she stares out the corner of the space station’s window, known as the dome, to see Earth. scan.

Watkins and fellow astronaut Bob Hines worked in June on the XROOTS space botanic investigation, using the space station's Veggie facility to test soilless methods of growing plants.

“Certainly for me, as a scientist and especially as a geologist, being able to look out the window and see places of geological interest — even field sites. that I’ve visited or done research on before — to be able to see them from that perspective, from a planetary perspective, is actually pretty amazing.

At the weekend, Watkins said the crew will use projectors to show movies. Her favorite – and perhaps most relevant – is the 2015 Matt Damon film, “Martians,” she said. Watkin’ doctor thesis at UCLA focuses on the topography of Mars, analyzing puzzling landslides seen on the planet’s surface and how water may have contributed to them.

“I think they did a great job (in the movie),” she said, “especially with the rocks.”

Watkins’s unbridled love of geology extends to her ambitions in NASA’s astronaut corps. When asked what her dream mission is, Watkins told CNN she’d like to travel to Mars and study some of the landmarks that she can only analyze through data collected by scientists. satellites and Mars rovers.

“To be able to go to the areas that we have studied — and especially I have studied — and be able to do fieldwork there and compare that kind of field geology with (remotely collected) data… would be great,” she said.

Such a feat is not beyond Watkins’ ability. As a member of NASA’s Artemis team, she’s part of the group of astronauts that could be selected to join upcoming crewed missions to the moon and perhaps eventually to Mars.

The Artemis program is still in its infancy, but NASA is expected to recruit crew members soon for its upcoming voyage around the moon.

Watkins has not lobbied NASA for a position on that mission or any other specific mission. “It doesn’t work that way,” she noted.

But the Artemis . program is offering her and her colleagues an exciting future — one that promises to better represent the general public.

“We’re a wonderful, diverse (astronaut) corps right now,” Watkins said. “And so whoever ends up being the face of the mission (Artemis II), we are all very excited to actually be a part of it and contribute in ways that all of us can.” we can contribute.”


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