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Reaching for the Sky: Meet NASA Astronaut Jessica Watkins


Jessica Watkins was selected by NASA to join the 2017 Astronaut Candidate Class. Having now completed the initial astronaut candidate training, she is eligible for a mission assignment. How did this Colorado native go from the state known for being “mile high” to wanting to go even higher than most other humans will ever go? Let’s introduce you.

After graduating from Fairview High School in Boulder, Colorado, Watkins earned a Bachelor of Science in Geological and Environmental Sciences from Stanford University. Her education continued until she earned a Doctorate in Geology from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

While a graduate research fellow at UCLA, Watkins had the opportunity to study Mars surface processes. Her Ph.D. work focused on the emplacement mechanisms of large landslides on Mars and Earth through orbital image and spectral data analysis, geologic mapping, and field work. When she was selected for Astronaut Candidate Class, Watkins was a postdoctoral fellow in the Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences at the California Institute of Technology, where she collaborated as a member of the Science Team for the Mars Science Laboratory rover, Curiosity. Her role in the Curiosity project involved daily planning of rover activities, testing of Mars rock physical properties using the rover’s drill parameters, and multi-scale investigation of the geologic history of Gale crater, Mars.

Not only are her multiple accolades awe-inspiring, so is the experience she gained along the way to becoming Dr. Watkins.

Out-Of-This-World Experience

During her undergraduate internships at NASA’s Ames Research Center, Watkins conducted research on Mars soil simulant supporting the Phoenix Mars Lander mission. As a graduate student, she participated in several internships at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), including analysis of near-Earth asteroids discovered by the NEOWISE mission, tactical and strategic planning for the Curiosity mission, and system design testing for the Mars 2020 and Mars Sample Return missions. In addition, she served as chief geologist for a NASA analog mission at the Mars Desert Research Station in 2009 and as a science operations team member for a NASA Desert Research and Technology Studies analog mission in 2011. Dr. Watkins also served as an aquanaut crew member in the Aquarius underwater habitat for the NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) 23 missions in 2019.

Watkins reported for duty to Astronaut Candidate training in August 2017 and completed two years of training as an Astronaut Candidate. That training included scientific and technical briefings, intensive instruction in International Space Station systems, spacewalks, robotics, physiological training, T-38 flight training, water and wilderness survival training, geology training, and expeditionary skills training.

Dr. Watkins is currently awaiting flight assignment! We’re sure to see this scientist reach the skies – and go beyond – when NASA puts her on a mission. Interested in reading more about the phenomenal women in NASA’s astronaut program? You can read about Astronaut Jessica Meir here and more about what the past decade taught us about women in space here.

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