On Wednesday, 12 new hopefuls — five women and seven men — were selected from more than 18,300 applicants to create NASA's 2017 Astronaut Candidate Class. One of the twelve is Jessica Watkins, an esteemed post-doctoral fellow at the California Institute of Technology who is proud to represent Black women in a field dominated by men.
Watkins spoke with BET Digital News about her longtime aspirations of becoming an astronaut and the brave women who helped her realize her dreams could come true.
For as long as Watkins can remember, she has always wanted to be an astronaut.
"Since the age of 9, I wanted to be an astronaut," Watkins told BET. "I was originally inspired by an after-school enrichment program at Judith Resnik Elementary."
Resnik was a female astronaut whose life inspired and interested Watkins.
"I asked my parents about who she was and her story," Watkins added.
As Watkins grew and earned several degrees, including a bachelor’s degree in Geological and Environmental Sciences from Stanford University and a Doctorate in Geology from the University of California, Los Angeles, she became closer to her dreams of heading to space.
Coincidentally, while Watkins was in the selection process for the astronaut program, the country was being introduced to Dorothy Vaughan, Katherine Johnson and Mary Jackson, the women behind Hidden Figures.
"I watched the movie knowing there was a possibility I could be doing the same thing," Watkins told BET. "It's pretty amazing to know I couldn’t have gotten here without standing on the shoulders of giants."
Johnson, Jackson, and Vaughan were three Black female mathematicians whose skills were used to send astronauts to space. Now, Watkins is using her own intelligence and capabilities to send herself there.
Just as Watkins saw herself in the women who used math to send men to space, she hopes other young girls will see her and feel empowered to do the same.
"Do not be afraid to be passionate," Watkins says to all the girls out there.
During her time with NASA, Watkins could be put on a flight to the International Space Station, flights around the moon or even Mars (using NASA's Orion spacecraft and heavy-lift Space Launch System rocket.)
(Photo: Robert Markowitz/ NASA/ Johnson Space Center)