DENVER (CBS4)– Two astronauts from Colorado could find themselves on the International Space Station, walking on the moon, or one day headed to Mars. U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander Matthew Dominick of Wheat Ridge and Jessica Watkins from Lafayette are part of the first class of astronaut candidates to graduate under the Artemis program. Watkins could potentially be the first woman to step foot on the moon.
“It’s a pretty awesome opportunity to be a part of this group at this moment in history. It’s a really exciting time in human space flight. Whoever it is that puts those boots back on the ground and the first woman that does so is going to be super exciting for all of us,” Watkins told CBS4’s Dominic Garcia.
The candidates, selected in 2017, graduated Friday morning during a ceremony at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.
The 13 astronauts will be eligible for selection to participate in missions to the International Space Station, Artemis missions to the moon and even manned missions to Mars.
Dominick and Watkins say even though Mars is the goal one day, going back to the moon is the next step.
“It’s an essential next step for us. We’ve been working in lower orbit for 20 years. We’ve had a continuous human presence on The International Space Station for the past about 19 years. We’ve learned so much about doing that, about what happens to the human body, about how to operate, about equipment. Now the next logical step is to go back to the moon in a sustainable way. To build the infrastructure to stay, so we can build our moon to Mars program,” said Dominick.
The group includes six women and seven men. Two candidates are from the Canadian Space Agency. The other 11 NASA candidates were selected from an initial pool of more than 18,000 applicants, the agency said.
As part of the process to become astronauts, the candidates trained in robotics; systems used aboard the space station; exercises that simulate spacewalking; flying T-38 jets; and learning the Russian language due to NASA’s partnership with Roscosmos for launches to the space station and talking to Russian astronauts aboard the ISS.
In addition to being eligible for spaceflight, the astronauts will also support those who are currently in the space station and develop spacecraft for future missions.
Matthew Dominick received his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and a master’s degree in systems engineering.
Jessica Watkins worked at NASA before becoming an astronaut. She earned a bachelor’s degree in geological and environmental sciences as well as a doctorate in geology. Watkins worked at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley and at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. She’s also worked on the Curiosity rover during her time at the California Institute of Technology.