Mae C. Jemison is the first African-American female astronaut. In 1992, she flew into space aboard the Endeavour, becoming the first African-American woman in space.
When and Where Was Mae Jemison Born?
Mae C. Jemison was born on October 17, 1956, in Decatur, Alabama.
Mae Jemison is the youngest child of Charlie Jemison, a roofer and carpenter, and Dorothy (Green) Jemison, an elementary school teacher. Her sister, Ada Jemison Bullock, became a child psychiatrist, and her brother, Charles Jemison, is a real estate broker.
Early Life and Education
The Jemison family moved to Chicago, Illinois, when Mae was three years old to take advantage of better educational opportunities, and it is that city that she calls her hometown.
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, especially 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.
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, Mae C. 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.
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.
In recognition of her accomplishments, Jemison received a number of accolades, including several honorary doctorates, the 1988 Essence Science and Technology Award, the Ebony Black Achievement Award in 1992 and a Montgomery Fellowship from Dartmouth College in 1993. She was also named Gamma Sigma Gamma Woman of the Year in 1990. In 1992, the Mae C. Jemison Academy, an alternative public school in Detroit, Michigan, was named after her.
Jemison has been a member of several prominent organizations, including the American Medical Association, the American Chemical Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and she served on the board of directors of the World Sickle Cell Foundation from 1990 to 1992. She has also served as an advisory committee member of the American Express Geography Competition and an honorary board member of the Center for the Prevention of Childhood Malnutrition.
Career After NASA
After leaving the astronaut corps in March 1993, Jemison accepted a teaching fellowship at Dartmouth. She also established the Jemison Group, a company that seeks to research, develop and market advanced technologies.
October 17, 1956
- Jemison is a trained dancer ‐‐ she built a dance studio in her home and even brought a poster from her dance school on her space mission. But when she was debating whether to go to medical school after college or become a professional dancer her mother advised her, “You can always dance if you’re a doctor, but you can’t doctor if you’re a dancer.”
- She began college at Stanford University to study chemical engineering when she was only 16 years old.
- Jemison faced many roadblocks to her dreams of pursuing science. Once, when Jemison said she wanted to be a scientist when she grew up, her teacher asked if she meant a nurse. She later founded The Earth We Share (TEWS), an international science camp that encourages science literacy for all.
- She’s afraid of heights, but she didn’t let that stop her from going into space. She says she relied on the strength of her ego to push forward.
- She was on an episode of Star Trek! Jemison began each of her shifts in space by saying, “Hailing frequencies open,” a reference to Lieutenant Uhura on Star Trek. In 1993, Jemison appeared in her own episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation as Lieutenant Palmer.
- Dr. Jemison is the principal of the 100 Year Starship Project, which has set a goal to ensure we have the capability for human travel beyond our solar system to another star in the next 100 years.
- She is the chief ambassador for Bayer’s Making Science Make Sense® initiative, which began in 1995. For over 20 years, Dr. Jemison has been traveling the country on behalf of Bayer, talking to elected officials, education and industry leaders, parents, teachers and students about STEM education, science literacy and diversity issues.