NASA announces Jessica Watkins as the first black woman in space

The US astronaut Jessica Watkins will be the first black woman to join an American-led International Space Station crew, NASA announced on Monday.

The astronaut was chosen through the space agency’s next class of astronaut candidates, dubbed the Expedition 20 class.

Oozing professionalism, the astronauts are expected to become the first United States class of astronauts to be available to President Donald Trump’s administration for pre-selection for missions.

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Ms Watkins, 35, has been working as a science officer with the Science Mission Directorate at Johnson Space Center in Houston.

She is scheduled to fly to the International Space Station on Nasa’s new Commercial Crew Program mission on 15 March.

The new astronauts were chosen from a pool of more than 6,500 astronauts. Nasa expects to train each astronaut for several years before sending them to space.

In the 1984, 1988 and 1989 astronaut training officer selection classes, the pool of candidates was almost half white.

But this year, while more than half of the astronaut candidates are Caucasian, the overall population for Nasa’s astronaut corps is also more diverse than before.

In 2016, the space agency announced that it wanted to become “a space agency that has more access to more opportunities in people of colour, women and disadvantaged people”.

In 1993, NASA launched the first group of astronauts outside its initial pilot pool of men. It expanded the mix by encouraging women, minorities and individuals with disabilities to apply for the agency’s astronaut corps.

The astronaut corps now stands at about 420 people, with around 37% women and roughly 4% non-white people.

But Nasa is mindful that more minorities could be drawn towards the field of manned spaceflight if it is seen as a welcoming place.

In a report on diversity and inclusion, the space agency said that its “continued commitment to advancing diversity should be seen in our hiring, astronaut selection, training and space program leadership”.

It added that “women and men of colour and persons with disabilities from all walks of life make up an important part of the NASA team and we want to recruit them and support them” on the programme.

Meanwhile, in an interview with CNN last year, Ms Watkins shared her experience of being black in the “very white” US space programme, saying she’s had to fight “the very good fight”.

“I hope [the diversity work] is a way to support the diversity of the crews that we have. It’s an important part of building a stronger astronaut corps,” she said.

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