American astronaut Jessica Watkins sets his sights on the moon… and Mars
If you had the choice, would you rather go to the moon or to Mars?
The question is completely theoretical for most of us, but for American astronaut Jessica Watkins it comes across a little different.
“Whatever Comes First!” Watkins says with a laugh in a lengthy interview with AFP from her post on the International Space Station (ISS).
At 34 years old, Watkins still has many years ahead of him with the American space agency NASA, and could very well be one of the first women to set foot on the moon in the coming years, as a member of the Artemis team that prepares for upcoming lunar missions.
Missions to Mars won’t be possible in the future, but since astronauts often work in their 50s, Watkins could potentially stand a chance.
Either way is fine, she says.
“I would be absolutely thrilled to be part of the effort to move to another planetary surface, be it the Moon or Mars.”
Meanwhile, Watkins’ first spaceflight was a history writer: She became the first black woman to undertake a long-term residency on the ISS, where she has spent three months as a mission specialist, with three months to go.
The Apollo missions that sent humans to the moon were staffed exclusively by white men, and NASA has tried over the years to expand recruiting to a more diverse group of candidates.
The agency now wants to put both women and people of color on the moon.
“I think it’s an important milestone for the agency and the country, as well as for the world,” Watkins said. “Representation is important. It is true that it is difficult to be what you cannot see.”
The Maryland resident added that she was “grateful to everyone who came before me… the women and black astronauts who paved the way for me to be here today.”
Geologist in heart and soul
Born in suburban Washington in Gaithersburg, Watkins grew up in Colorado before moving to California to study geology at Stanford University.
During her doctoral studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, her research focused in part on Mars and worked on NASA’s Curiosity rover, which was just celebrating 10 years on the Red Planet.
Watkins still has a soft spot for Mars. She even published a scientific study on the planet during her stay on the ISS.
“I would definitely call myself a geologist, a scientist, an astronaut,” she says.
Watkins recalls the moment she realized that space and planetary geology – the compound of the formation of celestial bodies such as planets, moons and asteroids – would be her life’s work.
It came during one of her first geology classes, in a lecture on planetary accretion, or when solids gradually collide with each other to form larger bodies, and eventually planets.
“I remember learning about that process… and then realizing that that’s what I wanted to do with the rest of my life and what I wanted to study,” she recalls.
“The idea of being part of an effort to actually do fieldwork on the surface of another planetary body is super exciting, and I’m looking forward to being a part of it.”
The Artemis program, a successor to Apollo, is aimed at slowly establishing a lasting human presence on the moon. The end goal is to set up a base that would be a forward operations station for any trips to Mars.
The first unmanned mission under the banner of Artemis will ascend to the moon at the end of August.
Watkins is one of 18 astronauts assigned to the Artemis team to provide ground support or eventually fly.
Officially, every active NASA astronaut (there are currently 42) has a chance to be selected to participate in a moon landing.
While previous mission experience can weigh heavily in NASA’s choices of personnel for the first manned Artemis flight, Watkins’s academic background should certainly increase her chances of being chosen.
Being good-natured and having a healthy team spirit are also key words for spaceflight teams, who are cooped up in small spaces for long periods of time.
Watkins says her colleagues would call her “easy,” and her time playing rugby has taught her the value of working in a team.
So how does she define being an astronaut?
“All of us have that sense of exploration and a desire to push the boundaries of what people can continue to do. And I think that’s something that unites us,” she says.
Watkins says she dreamed of going to space when she was young, always keeping it in the back of her mind — without ever thinking it could become a reality.
“Don’t be afraid to dream big,” she says. “You never know when your dreams will come true.”
Jessica Watkins makes history as first black woman launched to ISS for expanded space mission
© 2022 AFP
Quote: US astronaut Jessica Watkins sets his sights on the moon… and Mars (2022, August 13) retrieved on August 13, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-08-astronaut-jessica-watkins-sights- moon.html
This document is copyrighted. Other than fair dealing for personal study or research, nothing may be reproduced without written permission. The content is provided for informational purposes only.