Meet Dr. Mae Jemison!

Jun 23, 2020

Photo courtesy of NASA

By Carolina Herrera

Doctor, engineer, and NASA astronaut, Dr. Mae Jemison has always reached for the stars. Dr. Jemison became the first black American woman to be admitted into NASA’s astronaut training program and to travel into space aboard the Endeavor space shuttle on mission STS47 on September 12, 1992. Her path to becoming an astronaut, however, was not completely straightforward. Mae Jemison was born on October 17, 1956 in Decatur, Alabama. She was the youngest of three children. Jemison’s family moved to Chicago when she was three in search of better educational opportunities. There, Jemison developed interests throughout her childhood in evolution, anthropology, and astronomy. She grew up watching the Apollo mission broadcasts on TV and always wondered why there were no colored or female astronauts. This later fueled Mae Jemison’s passion to travel into space. As a high school student, she became interested in biomedical engineering, and after graduating at the young age of 16, she was admitted to Stanford University. She graduated from Stanford in 1977 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemical Engineering and a Bachelor of Arts degree in African and African-American studies.

After obtaining dual bachelor’s degrees, Jemison attended Cornell Medical School and worked at a Cambodian refugee camp in Thailand as a medical student. After graduating from medical school, Dr. Jemison became a medical officer with the Peace Corps in West Africa where she worked in connection with the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control on many research projects, including the development of a hepatitis B vaccine.

During this time, Sally Ride became the first American woman in space. After seeing this, Dr. Jemison was inspired to apply to become a NASA astronaut herself. Jemison applied in 1987 and was one of the 15 individuals out of 2,000 applicants to join the STS-47 NASA crew as a Mission Specialist. On the historic date of September 12, 1992, Jemison and six other astronauts aboard the Endeavor launched to dock at the International Space Station, making Dr. Jemison the first black American woman in space.

“Never be limited by other people’s limited imaginations.” -Mae Jemison
Photo Courtesy of NASA

In orbit, she conducted weightlessness and motion sickness experiments on the crew and herself. The team made 127 orbits around the Earth and returned safely to Kennedy Space Center in Florida on September 20, 1992. After serving as an astronaut for 6 years, Dr. Jemison established the Jemison Group, a foundation that promotes science, technology, and social change. She is an advocate for diversity within STEM. Dr. Jemison knows firsthand the importance of exposing kids to STEM disciplines early on to provide equal access to STEM careers for students who are underrepresented in these fields. A woman who knows no boundaries, Dr. Mae Jemison continues to be an advocate for diversity in STEM and will continue to be a source of inspiration for generations to come.  

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Edited by Anna Wheless and Priya Hibshman