10 Questions for Jessica Watkins

December 15, 2017
ROBERT MARKOWITZ—NASA

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 12. She talked to TFK’s Dante A. Ciampaglia.

1. What made you want to become an astronaut?

When I was 8 or 9 years old, I went to an after-school enrichment program at the 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 to the astronaut program?

The process 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, and the culmination of a dream for me in a lot of ways.

4. Do you feel ready for the new job?

It’s a big responsibility. I think [of it] as a kind of illustration of the best of humanity, in the sense that we come together to push ourselves to our physical, intellectual, and even spiritual 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 are brilliant, intelligent, and creative but also super humble and fun to be around. 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.

ROBERT MARKOWITZ—NASA

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 astronaut candidates in my class—we’ll all be a big part of getting each other through it. We have a lot of support and love from our friends and family. Other astronaut classes have been extremely supportive. It helps to know that other people are rooting for you and want to see you succeed.

8. So teamwork is the key to success?

Spaceflight brings people with different expertise and different backgrounds together to work toward an extremely lofty goal. Teamwork is really important.

9. Have you gotten any advice that stuck with you?

That success is going to hinge on bringing a positive attitude to every situation. 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?

Pursue what you love. 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.