Space station spacewalker Jessica Watkins shares thoughts as she takes off on a six-month spaceflight

Space center spacewalker Jessica Watkins says she and her crewmate’s aim to return to Earth June 3, are “zero-hours no-moments precious and sometimes scary,” hours after they took off Friday from the International Space Station.

You’ve just got to keep those feet on the ground. Jessica Watkins, the first black woman to join a space station crew, shares thoughts as she takes off on a six-month spaceflight. Posted by the American Astronaut Society on Friday, March 15, 2019

Watkins and her Russian crewmate Arianespace astronaut Oleg Novitskiy exited the Russian Soyuz rocket for the six-month mission at 7:54 a.m. EDT aboard a Soyuz vehicle on the launch pad at Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

“You never know what’s going to happen, but you do know you have to make the best of everything,” Watkins said from a training module after Friday’s launch.

As part of Expedition 57 to the International Space Station, Watkins, Novitskiy and NASA astronaut Anne McClain departed the station’s crew quarters, left the Kibo module for the first time and have been placed in the Russian-made Soyuz TMA-16M spacecraft for a planned crew landing June 3. The trio is set to reach Earth about two hours after its departure and the station will remain undisturbed until the four departing spacefarers return to Earth on Sept. 2.

Celia Peterson, Jessica Watkins’ mother, chimed in on her daughter’s historic accomplishment from her home in Houston, Texas, via phone Friday, sharing stories about some of her daughter’s early space ambitions.

“Jessica growing up would always say, ‘When I grow up, I want to live in space,’ ” Peterson said. “So she always wanted to do that, just went one step further: ‘I want to get on a spaceflight and do that.’”

Watkins’ life-long passion for space also was fueled by trips to Kazakhstan when the family was in the Soviet Union with family.

“What she loves to do is experience space. … That was when she really started realizing how big, how vast it is,” Peterson said. “To see how big, how vast it is, and be able to breathe that atmosphere [is incredible].”

With everyone back in California, Peterson said “my heart breaks a little bit,” but she encourages young people to make dreams their own.

“You have to dream. All those other things can come later, but the dream of space travel is what keeps our nation moving forward.”

Proud of my daughter & our amazing Coast Guard Pararescueman @MCUP2 @ItsAnneMcClain, who will be commander of Expedition 57 and Arianespace #Soyuz TMA-16M when launch from Baikonur is due to take place mid-afternoon, March 15, 2019. @NASApic.twitter.com/jvCogc3aPb — Jessica Watkins (@jackettnt1) March 15, 2019

This is the first time three U.S. space travelers will venture outside the station in one mission since NASA retired its shuttle fleet in 2011.

NASA astronaut Anne McClain will be the third female commander, and her predecessors among the seven-person Expedition 57 crew are the European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst and NASA astronaut Drew Feustel.

Along with deploying a small science experiment using a thermos filled with water to measure air flow, the trio also plan to install three new exterior windows, attach a docking port to the bottom of the Soyuz ship’s Zvezda service module and grab the free-flying Russian research vessel Progress 57 for a resupply trip to the station.

“I don’t think it matters where they get to land, it matters who’s on that landing,” Peterson said. “Jessica is one of those really inspiring stories.”

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