Mae Jemison was the first African-American female astronaut. A bright and energetic girl, she also became a doctor and served in the Peace Corps. Mae is also a dancer, a teacher, a speaker, and an author.
Mae was born on October 17, 1956, in Decatur, Alabama. Seeking better educational and work opportunities her family moved to Chicago when Mae was three years old.
A bright student Mae learned how to read before she went to school. She told her kindergarten teacher that she wanted to be a scientist when she grew up. There weren’t very many African-American scientists in the 1960’s but that didn’t stop Mae. She loved astronomy and often looked up at the stars and dreamed. During her school years Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon. Mae was determined to go into space some day.
In 1977 Mae went to medical school. She had to choose between two careers – dancer or doctor. Mae decided that she could be a doctor and still dance, but she could not doctor if she was a dancer. The energetic and practical Mae went to medical school. Later when she got to go into space she proved that she could do both by dancing in the shuttle!! Mae took a poster of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater with her on her flight.
When Mae became a doctor she wanted to help poor people and so starting in 1983 she traveled to Africa and served with the Peace Corps. She served in Liberia and Sierra Leone.
In 1985 Mae returned to California to work at a hospital. This was when she pursued her dream of becoming an astronaut. She applied at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). One year later she began her training at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. The first woman in space was Sally Ride and the first African-American in space was Guion Bluford. These astronauts were an inspiration to Mae as she trained. Mae learned about the space shuttle she would be working on. She had to get use to zero gravity and the limits of space. She would be doing scientific experiments on board the shuttle.
In 1987, during Mae’s training the space shuttle Challenger exploded killing all astronauts on board. This disaster was somewhat of a setback in the space program but Mae was still as determined as ever to be an astronaut. Mae was one of only 15 candidates chosen out of about 2000 applicants.
Another person who was an inspiration for Mae was Nichelle Nichols, who is famous for her role as Lieutenant Uhura on Star Trek. In 1993, Mae Jemison starred in: Star Trek: The Next Generation (1993) – as Lieutenant Palmer, episode “Second Chances”. She was the first real live astronaut to appear on Star Trek.
On September 12, 1992, Mae Jemison became the first African-American women to go into space on the space shuttle Endeavour. The crew stayed in space for over 190 hours (nearly 8 days). Mae’s experiments were used to see the effects of zero gravity on the human body.
In 1993, Mae left NASA so that she could get involved in other projects. She wanted to encourage young people to follow their dreams. She began an international science camp program for teenagers called The Earth We Share.
Other achievements for Mae Jemison include:
- The founding of the Jemison Institute. 1995
- College Professor, Dartmouth College. 1995
- The 100 Year Starship Program. Mae joined in 2011. The program’s goal is to help humans travel to the stars in the next 100 years.
- International Space Hall of Fame. NASA Space Flight Medal.
- Awarded the Doctor of Engineering (honorary) degree in 2007.
- Mae has also written articles and books including “Journey Through Our Solar System (True Books: Dr. Mae Jemison and 100 Year Starship) 2013.
Below are the links to two interesting YouTube videos with pictures and interviews of Mae Jemison that I think you might enjoy:
Mae Jemison: I Wanted To Go Into Space, July 31, 2014
Mae Jemison – Mini Bio, January 12, 2012