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Photo collage of NASA astronaut Jessica Watkins
Photo illustration by Sean Parsons. Source images: Courtesy of NASA (Jessica Watkins, Orion spacecraft; Getty Images (moon, night sky)

Jessica Watkins Could Be the First Woman and Person of Color on the Moon

The Lafayette astronaut is training for NASA’s Artemis mission, which aims to return humans to the lunar landscape by 2024.

When the Orion spacecraft lifts off in 2024, it will break more than the sound barrier. NASA’s Artemis mission, which is scheduled to return humans to the moon for the first time in 50 years, has promised that during this maiden trip, a woman will add her footprints to the lunar surface, and that a person of color will too by the end of the decade. As one of 18 astronauts training to fill the initial four-person crew—and the only Black woman among them—33-year-old Jessica Watkins of Lafayette may be poised to take those huge steps. Since joining NASA’s astronaut program in 2017, Watkins, a geologist by training, has analyzed near-Earth asteroids, studied landslides on Mars, and been part of the Curiosity Rover team that discovered evidence of water on the red planet. But even if NASA doesn’t choose her for the program’s first human expedition, Watkins still has a shot at studying space rocks up close. During the latter part of the 2020s, subsequent Artemis expeditions will establish a base camp on the moon’s southern pole to serve as a research site and an eventual way station for longer space explorations—including the 140-million-mile leap to Mars.

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