The next people to walk on the moon, and one day maybe even fly to Mars, might just be two Coloradans. Matthew Dominick of Wheat Ridge and Jessica Watkins from Lafayette are among the elite group of 13 that make up NASA's latest class of newly-minted astronauts.
The graduate class is the first since NASA announced its Artemis program to land the first woman — and next man — on the moon by 2024. It’s seen as a first step to the next frontier of planetary exploration.
Graduation day followed two years of rigorous training and some more down to earth challenges.
“The hardest part for me in training is every time I show up to Russian and still realize how terrible I am at it despite hundreds and hundreds of hours, and I sit there across from my instructor and realize I still can't come up with the right words,” Dominick told CPR's Colorado Matters.
Proficiency in Russian wasn’t something the Apollo astronauts had to tackle, but it’s now necessary for work aboard the International Space Station, where Americans and Russians work side by side.
Dominick, a naval officer and test pilot, graduated from D’Evelyn Junior/Senior High School in Golden. If he’s chosen for the moon mission, he’ll fly aboard the Orion spacecraft, designed just around the corner from home by Lockheed Martin in Littleton.
An expert in Mars geology, Jessica Watkins is a graduate of Fairview High School in Boulder. Her knowledge base would be critical to finding the resources on the moon and Mars that will make traveling and living off-Earth possible. Before she was tapped for the astronaut program, she worked on the Mars 2020 rover that is scheduled to launch in July.
“We'll actually have an instrument that is going to start looking at the possibility of creating fuel from the resources that are available on the Martian surface,” she explained.
Is Watkins herself interested in traveling to Mars? “Yes, certainly,” she laughed. “As long as we have a ride back.”
An African-American woman, Watkins said that “NASA has shown that it believes that it is important to have a diversity of backgrounds and experiences, and that all kinds of skill sets really are necessary to accomplish the hard things that we've set out for ourselves.”
And what about future astronauts that sit in Centennial State classrooms today?
“I think this is really exciting for young kids because we're not just going to the moon, go and come back,” Dominick said. “We're going to stay.”
So far, nine astronauts have hailed from Colorado, including John Swigert of the Apollo 13 mission, born in Denver, and Vance Brand of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project and several shuttle mission who hailed from Longmont. Other hometown cities include Boulder, Colorado Springs, Del Norte, Durango and Louisville.