Elon Musk’s rocket company, SpaceX, launched four more astronauts into orbit on the Crew Dragon capsule on April 27.
The crew includes Jessica Watkins, who becomes the first black woman to serve on an extended mission on the International Space Station (ISS).
In orbit, the crew will work on science experiments and space station maintenance.
According to NASA, experiments will include studies on “the aging of immune systems, organic material concrete alternatives, and cardiorespiratory effects during and after long-duration exposure to microgravity”.
Crew-3, after handing over to the new Crew-4, will return from space on their Crew Dragon capsule in September, shortly after SpaceX launches its Crew-5 mission.
Jessica Watkins, 33, and three other astronauts rocketed into space from the Kennedy Space Center on Merritt Island, Florida at 3:52AM EDT.
In November 2021, NASA announced Jessica Watkins would be the fourth and final seat on Crew Dragon for SpaceX’s Crew-4 mission.
The assignment meant Jessica Watkins would be the first Black woman to join an ISS crew for scientific research, station maintenance, training and more over a six-month period. Previously, Victor Glover, part of SpaceX’s Crew-2 mission that launched in November 2020, became the first Black astronaut to join a station crew.
Out of 248 astronauts who have visited the ISS, only seven have been Black and none were included in expeditions lasting several months.
In 1983, Guion Bluford became the first Black astronaut to travel to space. Mae Jemison followed nine years later and became the first Black woman to do the same.
In 2021, NASA also announced that Jessica Watkins was chosen for the Artemis program that aims to put astronauts back on the moon no later than 2025.
The April 27 flight sent NASA’s Bob Hines, Kjell Lindgren and the European Space Agency’s Samantha Cristoforetti to orbit.
They’re expected to dock at the ISS at 8:15PM EDT if schedules hold.