LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – Rookie NASA astronaut Jessica Watkins, who holds a doctorate from the University of California, Los Angeles, and previously worked at Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, will serve aboard the International Space Station next year.

Watkins will be the first Black woman to serve as part of the crew aboard the orbiting station.

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NASA astronaut Jessica Watkins (L) shakes hands with former astronaut Patrick G. Forrester during during the astronaut graduation ceremony at Johnson Space Center in Houston Texas, on January 10, 2020. – The 13 astronauts, 11 from NASA and 2 from CSA, are the first candidates to graduate under the Artemis program and will become eligible for spaceflight, including assignments to the International Space Station, Artemis missions to the Moon, and ultimately, missions to Mars, according to NASA. (Photo by Mark Felix / AFP) (Photo by MARK FELIX/AFP via Getty Images)

She will be a member of the fourth crew launched to the station by Hawthorne-based Space-X under a commercial contract with NASA. A geologist by trade, Watkins will serve as a mission specialist as a member of Crew-4, according to NASA.

The crew, including Watkins, will include NASA astronauts Kjell Lindgren and Robert Hines and European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti. They are scheduled to launch in April 2022 in a Crew Dragon spacecraft powered into space by a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

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They will spend six months on the space station, making Watkins the first Black woman to serve extended duty in outer space. Other Black women have flown in space, but have never served as a long-term member of the space station crew.

According to NASA, Watkins was born in Maryland but grew up in Lafayette, Colorado. She has a bachelor’s degree in geological and environmental sciences from Stanford University and a doctorate in geology from UCLA, where her graduate research focused on “the emplacement mechanisms of large landslides on Mars and Earth.”

She interned at NASA and then worked at the space agency’s Ames Research Center and at JPL. She was also a postdoctoral fellow in the Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences at Caltech, working on the Mars rover Curiosity.

Watkins was also a volunteer assistant coach for the Caltech women’s basketball team.

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