Contemporary Black History - Mae Jemison

Mae Jemison
October 17, 1956 – Present

What we find is that if you have a goal that is very, very far out, and you approach it in little steps, you start to get there faster. Your mind opens up to the possibilities. ~ Mae Jemison

Mae Carol Jemison is an American physician and NASA astronaut. She became the first African American woman to be admitted into the astronaut training program and the first to travel in space when she went into orbit aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour on September 12, 1992. She has appeared on television several times, including as an actress in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. She is a dancer, and holds nine honorary doctorates in science, engineering, letters, and the humanities.

Mae Jemison was born in Decatur, Alabama, the youngest child of Charlie Jemison, a roofer and carpenter, and Dorothy Green Jemison, an elementary school teacher. The family moved to Chicago, Illinois, when Jemison was 3 years old, and it is that city that she calls her hometown. From a young age Jemison’s parents encouraged her in all of her interests, including nature and science. Once when a splinter infected her thumb as a little girl, Jemison's mother turned it into a learning experience. She ended up doing a whole project about pus. Jemison also loved dance and in her senior year of college at Stanford University, to which she had earned a scholarship, she was trying to decide whether to go to New York to medical school or become a professional dancer. Her mother told her, "You can always dance if you're a doctor, but you can't doctor if you're a dancer.”

Upon graduation, Jemison entered Cornell University Medical College. After completing her medical training, Jemison joined the staff of the Peace Corps and served as a Peace Corps Medical Officer from 1983 to 1985 in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Following her return to the United States in 1985, Jemison decided to follow a dream she had nurtured for a long time. 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. Jemison flew her only space mission from September 12 to 20, 1992.

Mae Jemison resigned from NASA in 1993 to form a company researching the application of technology to daily life. In addition she works with the 100 Year Starship Foundation, a private organization dedicated to funding research that will make interstellar travel possible.