Mae C. Jemison

Mae Jemison was born in Decatur, Alabama, on 17 October 1956. She was the first black woman in space. She is a former NASA Astronaut, an engineer, and a physician. She joined NASA’s Astronaut Corps in 1987. On 12 September 1987 she served as a Mission Specialist aboard the space shuttle Endeavor. Her mission was called the STS-47, which orbited the Earth for eight days. 

Mae Jemison was raised in Chicago, where her father worked as a maintenance supervisor for a nonprofit, and her mother worked as an elementary school teacher. Growing up she was interested in science, space, and dance. She graduated high school and enrolled in Stanford University when she was 16 years old. At Stanford she choreographed musicals and dances, and lead the Black Student’s Union. 

She graduated from Stanford in 1977 with a degree in African American Studies as well as chemical engineering. Mae nearly became a professional dancer, but instead she chose to earn her medical degree from Cornell University. She moved to Los Angeles to become a general practitioner. She then went to serve in the Peace Corps as a doctor in Sierra Leone and Liberia from 1983-1985. After the Peace Corps Mae moved back to Los Angeles, where, as a general practitioner, she continued to take graduate courses in engineering. She applied to NASA to pursue becoming an astronaut. 

In 1987 Mae was chosen among fifteen others, in an applicant pool of 2,000, to join NASA’s Astronaut Group 12. This was the first American astronaut group formed after the Challenger disaster. Her mission, STS-47, was a collaborative effort between the Kennedy Space Center and Japan. It logged 190 hours, 30 minutes, 23 seconds in space, and orbited the earth 127 times. During the mission she used autogenic training and biofeedback to help the crew monitor their physiology and alleviate motion sickness, anxiety, and stress. She also researched two bone cell experiments, and studied how frogs ovulate and their tadpoles develop in zero gravity.

Mae resigned from NASA in 1983 to found her own technology research company. She joined a non-profit educational company which ran the 100-Year Starship project, receiving funding from DARPA. Jemison made multiple television appearances including an episode of Star Trek in 1993. She has also written children’s books. She has been awarded several honorary Doctorates and is a member of the National Women’s Hall of Fame and the International Space Hall of Fame. 

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