Watkins, a former geologist who earned a Bachelor’s degree from Stanford University and a Doctorate degree from UCLA, launched off from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida to embark on a long-term space mission. Joining her are NASA astronauts Kjell Lindgren, Bob Hines and European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti.
“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 shared with NPR right before her mission.
While on the mission, Watkins will “conduct scientific research, perform station maintenance, and undergo training while orbiting the Earth.” The team is slated for a six-month stay in the ISS laboratory.
Born in Maryland, Watkins began as a NASA intern before working at multiple research centers in California. She was also a postdoctoral fellow on the science team for the Mars Science Laboratory rover Curiosity in 2017.
Watkins believes that Black women and other women of color are the future of space exploration.
“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 an 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.”