Mae Carol Jemison is a role model for aspiring astronauts everywhere. She is an American physician, engineer, and former NASA astronaut. At NASA, she worked as a mission specialist on the Space Shuttle Endeavor. She joined NASA in 1987, and she is the first black woman to travel into space.
Jemison, born on October 17, 1956, is the youngest child of Charlie and Dorothy Jemison. Born in Alabama, Jemison moved to Chicago as a child and attended school there until her high school graduation. She recalls that her earliest interests in science and aeronautics were stoked by Nichelle Nichols’ role as Lieutenant Uhura on Star Trek. During her childhood, her parents were strongly supportive of her passion for STEM, but she was frustrated that there were no women astronauts and that her teachers were less than supportive of her goals.
Throughout her early life, Jemison was a driven, talented high-achiever -- she was highly committed to dance and cheerleading, and she graduated from Chicago’s Morgan Park High School in 1973 at just 16 years of age. After graduation, she enrolled in Stanford University. During her time there, she faced both age- and race- based discrimination, but she was undeterred from her goals. She graduated from Stanford in 1977 with a B.S. in Chemical Engineering and a B.A. in African and African-American studies.
Following Stanford, Jemison enrolled in Cornell Medical School, where she gained experience practicing medicine in Cuba, Thailand, and Africa. After graduation, she worked as a general practitioner before joining the Peace Corps as a medical officer in 1983; she was stationed in Africa.
After returning to the United States, Jemison worked in private practice, but she was inspired by female astronauts like Sally Ride and Guion Bluford. She applied to be part of NASA’s astronaut training program, and she was chosen in 1987 to be one of fifteen people in the NASA Astronaut Group 12, the first group of astronauts NASA would field following the Challenger disaster. Prior to being selected to join Group 12 and the STS-47 crew as a mission specialist, she assisted with launch support activities and verified the Shuttle’s computer software for NASA.
On September 12, 1992 Jemison entered space for her first and only mission. The flight lasted 190 hours, 30 minutes, and 23 seconds, and the space shuttle orbited earth 127 times. Aboard the STS-47, Jemison was responsible for monitoring the health and wellness of other astronauts, testing NASA’s Fluid Therapy System, investigating bone cell research experiments, and studying how tadpoles developed in space. After her return from space, she moved on from NASA and started her own consulting firm, founded a STEM-based non-profit that supports students in science (the Dorothy Jemison Foundation for Excellence), and taught at both Dartmouth College and Cornell University. She continues to have a major impact on the field of science through her work and her foundation, and she wrote a memoir, Find Where the Wind Goes: Moments From My Life.