Mae Jemison: First African American Woman to Travel in Space
By Jason Lewis
Sentinel Staff Writer
Mae Carol Jemison, a native of Decatur, Alabama, set her sights for the stars as a young child. On September 12, 1992 her dreams came true as she went into orbit aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour.
Jemison was fascinated with science at a very young by studying nature, and she told her kindergarten teacher in Chicago that she wanted to be a scientist. Her teacher asked her if she would want to be a nurse instead. Jemison saw nothing wrong with being a nurse, but that was not what she wanted to be.
Jemison saw Martin Luther King's dream as a call to action.
"Too often people paint him like Santa, smiley and inoffensive," Jamison told the Detroit Free Press in a 2008 interview. "But when I think of Martin Luther King I think of attitude, audacity, and bravery. The best way to make dreams come true is to wake up."
Jemison was a very gifted student, and she entered Stanford University at the age of 16. Some of her professors ignored her in class, acting as if she was dumb and did not belong at Stanford, let alone majoring in Chemical Engineering, along with African and Afro-American Studies. She had an "I'm going to do this and I don't give a damn" kind of attitude, which she feels that was necessary for women and minorities to have in certain fields.
In 1977 Jemison graduated from Stanford, and in 1981 she received her Doctor of Medicine degree from Cornell Medical College. She interned at the Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center and later worked as a general practitioner.
In 1985 Jemison entered private practice in Los Angeles as a general practitioner with CIGNA Health Plans of California. After seeing Sally Ride become the first American woman to fly in space Jemison felt it was the right time for her to apply for the NASA program.
NASA accepted Jemison's application in 1987. Over 2,000 applications were received, but Jemison was one of only 15 candidates accepted.
In 1992 Jemison's dreams were realized as she flew into space as a Mission Specialist. One of her most significant memories from the trip was spotting Chicago, her hometown, from outer space.
Jemison left NASA in 1993 to start her own company, the Jemison Group, which researches, markets, and develops science and technology for daily life.
Jemison has always been a big fan of Star Trek and 1993 she made a guest appearance on an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.
In 1994 Jemison founded the Dorothy Jemison Foundation for Excellence and named the foundation after her mother. One of the projects of Jemison's foundation is The Earth We Share, which is an international science camp where students, ages 12-16, work to solve current global problems, such as "How Many People Can the Earth Hold" and "Predict the Hot Public Stocks of the Year 2030."
Jemison founded BioSentient Corp in 1999 and has been working to develop a portable device that allows mobile monitoring of the involuntary nervous system.
Jemison is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated. She paid tribute to Alpha Kappa Alpha by carrying the Sorority's banner with her on her shuttle flight. Her space suit is part of the Sorority's national traveling Centennial Exhibit.