In June, 12 people were chosen from more than 18,000 applicants for NASA’s 2017 astronaut-candidate class. Jessica Watkins, 29, is the youngest of the group. She talked to TFK’s Dante A. Ciampaglia.
1. What made you want to become an astronaut?
When I was 8 or 9, I went to an after-school program at Judith A. Resnik Elementary School, in Maryland. I talked to my parents about Resnik’s legacy as an astronaut. [Resnik was the second American woman in space.] It inspired me to pursue this path.
2. How do you apply for the astronaut program?
It takes about a year and a half! It includes medical testing and many long rounds of interviews.
3. What did it feel like to find out you’d been accepted?
It was super exciting, super humbling.
4. Did you feel ready for the new job?
It’s a big responsibility. [The other astronauts and I] have come together to push ourselves to the limits. The only way to reach those limits is by working together.
5. What are the other members of your class like?
They are all great. They’re people you want to hang out with, which is good, considering we’ll be in small spaces together for long periods of time.
6. Do you all have the same skills?
You can really see how NASA chooses people with all different [kinds of] expertise. People who can work together as a team—that’s really important.
7. You have to train for two years. How did you prepare yourself to get through it?
The other astronauts in my class—we’ll all be a big part of getting each other through it. We have a lot of support from our friends and family.
8. So teamwork is the key to success?
Spaceflight brings people of different backgrounds together to work toward an extremely lofty goal. Teamwork is important.
9. Have you gotten any advice that sticks with you?
Being flexible and patient makes a big difference. I think it’s true for most situations.
10. Do you have advice for kids who want to work for NASA one day?
If you want to be an astronaut, focus on the STEM fields. That’s a requirement for being an astronaut. Do well in school. Find a path you love and continue to pursue that with everything you have.