Who Is Mae C. Jemison?
Mae C. Jemison is an American astronaut and physician who, on June 4, 1987, became the first African American woman to be admitted into NASA’s astronaut training program. On September 12, 1992, Jemison finally flew into space with six other astronauts aboard the Endeavour on mission STS47, becoming the first African-American woman in space.
Early Life and Education
Jemison was born on October 17, 1956, in Decatur, Alabama. She is the youngest child of Charlie Jemison, a roofer and carpenter, and Dorothy (Green) Jemison, an elementary school teacher. Growing up watching Star Trek on television, Jemison fell in love with science. Throughout her early school years, Jemison's parents were supportive and encouraging of her talents and abilities, and she spent a considerable amount of time in her school library reading about all aspects of science, particularly astronomy.
During her time at Morgan Park High School, she became convinced she wanted to pursue a career in biomedical engineering. When she graduated in 1973 as a consistent honor student, she entered Stanford University on a National Achievement Scholarship at age of 16.
As she had been in high school, Jemison was very involved in extracurricular activities at Stanford, including dance and theater productions, and served as head of the Black Student Union. She received a Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering from the university in 1977. Upon graduation, she entered Cornell University Medical College and, during her years there, found time to expand her horizons by studying in Cuba and Kenya and working at a Cambodian refugee camp in Thailand.
Career as a Medical Doctor
After Jemison obtained her M.D. in 1981, she interned at Los Angeles County/University of Southern California Medical Center and later worked as a general practitioner. For the next two and a half years, she was the area Peace Corps medical officer for Sierra Leone and Liberia where she also taught and did medical research.
Following her return to the United States in 1985, Jemison made a career change and decided to follow a dream she had nurtured for a long time: In October, she applied for admission to NASA's astronaut training program. The Challenger disaster of January 1986 delayed the selection process, but when she reapplied a year later, Jemison was one of the 15 candidates chosen from a field of about 2,000.
First African American Woman Astronaut
On June 4, 1987, Jemison became the first African American woman to be admitted into the NASA astronaut training program. After more than a year of training, she became the first African American woman astronaut, earning the title of science mission specialist — a job that would make her responsible for conducting crew-related scientific experiments on the space shuttle.
When Jemison finally flew into space on September 12, 1992, with six other astronauts aboard the Endeavour on mission STS47, she became the first African American woman in space.
During her eight days in space, Jemison conducted experiments on weightlessness and motion sickness on the crew and herself. In all, she spent more than 190 hours in space before returning to Earth on September 20, 1992. Following her historic flight, Jemison noted that society should recognize how much both women and members of other minority groups can contribute if given the opportunity.
Career After NASA
After leaving the astronaut corps in March 1993, Jemison accepted a teaching fellowship at Dartmouth but she wasn’t finished achieving her childhood dreams. That same year Jemison got to make a cameo appearance as “Lt. Palmer” in an episode of Star Trek. She had become a part of the very show that had inspired her all those years ago as a young girl in Alabama. Today, Jemison is an inspiration to us all, a true explorer in the face of adversity.