Mae Carol Jemison is an American physician and former astronaut for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). She holds the distinction of being the first African American woman to travel to space. She has stated that as a child she always knew she would fly amongst the stars. In her mind, travel to space would be as common as going to work. With a personality geared toward learning, she is the recipient of nine honorary doctorates in the fields of science, engineering, letters and the humanities. She also has a great sense of self-assurance and empathy. Once while serving in the Peace Corps, she overrode another doctor’s diagnosis and called in an airlift for a patient at the cost of $80,000. When told she didn’t have the authority, she responded that she didn’t need it. Her diagnosis proved correct and the patient survived. This sense of confidence helped to catapult Mae far in the fields of science and technology. Since her time in space, Jemison has worked tirelessly to expand technology as well as educate the next generation of scientists. She has created multiple corporations and camps aimed at accomplishing this goal. Her continued ambitions play an important part in technological advancement. To know more about her life and works read on.
Childhood & Early Life
Mae Jemison was born on October 17, 1956 in Decatur, Alabama. She’s the youngest child of Charlie, a maintenance supervisor, and Dorothy, a teacher. She has two siblings; sister Alda and brother Charles.
The family moved to Chicago, when Mae was three, for the superior educational systems. She considers Chicago her hometown.
Always studious, she spent hours in the library studying various areas of science. She also loved to experiment. Once, after receiving an infection from a splinter, she performed an in-depth study on pus.
Jemison graduated at 16 from ‘Morgan Park High’ in 1973. That same year, she enrolled at ‘Stanford University’ on a National Achievement Scholarship.
She kept a full schedule at Stanford; not only did she pursue a double major, she was also involved in dance and theater and headed the ‘Black Student Union’.
In 1977, she graduated with a B.S. in chemical engineering and a B.A. in African and Afro-American studies. From there she went on to the prestigious ‘Cornell Medical College’.
At Cornell, she studied in both Cuba and Kenya and volunteered at a Cambodian refugee camp. In 1981 she received her Doctor of Medicine degree.
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Jemison interned at the ‘LA County USC Medical Center’. After this, she spent time working as a general practitioner.
She spent 1983-1985 serving as a medical officer for the Peace Corps in Sierra Leone and Liberia. She oversaw the care of volunteers and embassy personnel and helped the CDC on research projects. She also wrote manuals on self-care and initiated guidelines for health and safety.
Returning to the U.S. she decided to follow her dream of becoming an astronaut. She applied to NASA’s training program but the explosion of the ‘Challenger’ delayed the process. On June 4, 1987 she became the first African American woman accepted into the program. She was one of 15 chosen from a field of 2000.
She completed her training in 1988 and began working as an astronaut office representative with ‘Kennedy Space Center’. Her duties included processing the shuttles for launch and working with the computer software in the ‘Shuttle Avionics Integration Laboratory’.
On September 12, 1992, she went to space aboard the ‘Endeavour.’ Deemed ‘Mission STS47’ this was the 50th mission for the space shuttle program. Jemison performed experiments regarding weightlessness and motion sickness. She also conducted an experiment to determine how tadpoles develop in zero gravity. She spent 190 hours in space before returning to Earth on September 20th.
In 1993, this renowned astronaut resigned from NASA. Afterward she formed the ‘Jemison Group’, a company that develops advanced technologies geared toward daily living.
Between 1995 and 2002 she served as a professor at ‘Dartmouth College’. She also started the ‘Jemison Institute for Advancing Technology in Developing Countries’.
In 1999 she started the medical devices company ‘BioSentient Corp’. They have done such things as work to develop a device that monitors the involuntary nervous system.
As head of the ‘Dorothy Jemison Foundation for Excellence’, she won the bid for the ‘DARPA 100 Year Starship’ project in 2012. This grant helps organizations further the research of interstellar travel.
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In 2001, Mae published her autobiography, ‘Find Where the Wind Goes: Moments from My Life.’ Aimed at young readers, it traces her humble beginnings through her arrival in space.
Awards & Achievements
In 1988, she was awarded the ‘Essence’ Science and Technology Award.
In 1990, she was named the Gamma Sigma Gamma Woman of the Year. The next year ‘McCall’s’ included her in their ‘10 Outstanding Women for the 90’s.’
In 1992 she won the ‘Ebony’ magazine’s ‘Black Achievement Award’. She was also awarded the ‘Montgomery Fellowship’ from Dartmouth.
She was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1993. She joined distinguished women such as Amelia Earhart and Rosa Parks.
Personal Life & Legacy
Creator of the international science camp ‘The Earth We Share.’ This camp strives to improve problem-solving skills by having students work on global issues.
From 1990-1992 she served on the board for the ‘World Sickle Cell Foundation’. They work to find a cure and to help those suffering from the disease.
This pioneering astronaut is the eponym for the Mae C. Jemison Academy in Detroit.
She took part in a PBS mini-series that traced her family history. She was astonished to find her genetic makeup is 13% East Asian.
She appeared in an episode of ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation.’ She was the first real astronaut to do so.
She has practiced medicine on three continents. These include North America, Asia and Africa.