A NASA astronaut with local ties is on her way to the International Space Station Wednesday morning — and she’s making history in the process.
Jessica Watkins, a UCLA graduate, is on her first mission to space during a six-month-long excursion to the ISS.
Her mission began with the launch of the SpaceX Dragon, which launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 3:52 a.m. ET. It’s the fourth journey to the ISS for a commercial crew, and marks 26 astronauts sent to space by SpaceX in under two years.
Other crew members traveling alongside Watkins include NASA astronauts Kjell Lindgren and Bob Hines, as well as Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti.
Watkins, a Colorado native, will serve as mission specialist on the ISS during her first mission. But her first foray into space comes with a long history of work in the field.
Watkins studied geology at UCLA and Stanford, and interned at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory before working on the Mars rover Curiosity.
She will make history as the first Black woman to serve on a long-duration space mission.
“We have reached this milestone, this point in time, it is because of the legacy of those who have come before to allow for this moment,” Watkins said in an interview. “And also recognizing that this is a step in the direction of a very exciting future. So to be a part of that is certainly an honor.”
During the six-month mission, Crew 4 will conduct scientific research focusing on health technologies, plant science, micro-gravity and the effects of being in space for long periods of time.
The research is aimed at helping NASA prepare for longer-duration stays on the moon and even Mars.