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.
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.
The process takes about a year and a half! It includes medical testing and many long rounds of interviews.
It was super exciting, super humbling, and the culmination of a dream for me in a lot of ways.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Spaceflight brings people with different expertise and different backgrounds together to work toward an extremely lofty goal. Teamwork is really important.
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.
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.