The first African-American woman in space set her eyes on the stars as a child growing up on the south side of Chicago. She has not changed her view since.
Her story may set your eyes on the stars as well.
Mae Jemison went from being a fan of the original Star Trek, to appearing in the movie Star Trek: The Next Generation.
From earning a chemical engineering degree at Stanford to getting her medical degree at Cornell.
From practicing medicine in a Cambodian refugee camp, to orbiting the earth in a space shuttle.
Mae Jemison went from being the first African-American Woman in space to an entrepreneur set on developing the capability to send people like you and me to another star.
Oh, and resolve climate change while she's at it.
“Capabilities—notice that I didn’t say a launch date?” Dr. Jamison told qz.com. “Why is that important? Because all the capabilities that are required to go beyond our solar system are the very same things that we need to survive as a species on this starship [earth]. What’s the main capability we need? Sustainability.”
It seems rather than dreaming of possibilities, Mae Jemison has always believed in done deals. As a young girl during the heyday of the American space program, she closely followed details of the Gemini, Mercury and Apollo programs.
"I always assumed I would go into space," Mae says. "Not necessarily as an astronaut; I thought because we were on the moon when I was 11 or 12 years old, that we would be going to Mars—I'd be going to work on Mars as a scientist." (Below, Mae at center, her brother Ricky and sister Ada Sue)
Mae's kindergarten teacher suggested she consider being a nurse. Mae put her hands on her hips and insisted, no, she'd be a scientist.
"And that's despite the fact that there were no women, and it was all white males—and in fact, I used to always worry, believe it or not as a little girl, I was like: What would aliens think of humans? You know, these are the only humans?"
Many years later, after earning her M.D., working in the Peace Corps and taking up a general medical practice in Los Angles, Mae remembered her childhood plans.
“I still wanted to go into space. So I applied. Picked up the phone. I called down to Johnson space center I said I would like an application to be an astronaut. They didn’t laugh. I turned in the application."
She was accepted, one of fifteen astronaut candidates in 1987, and completed training the next year.
"I didn’t even think about the fact of whether I would be the first African-American woman in space or anything like that…it didn’t even cross my mind. I wanted to go into space. I couldn’t care if there had been a thousand people in space before me or whether there had been none. I wanted to go.”
September 12, 1992, the space shuttle Endeavour launched from Kennedy Space Center in Florida and Mae Jemison was strapped into a seat on board.
She served as the science mission specialist on the cooperative venture with Japan, doing experiments in life and material sciences, including bone cell research.
"I felt like I belonged right there in space," Mae says. "I realized I would feel comfortable anywhere in the universe — because I belonged to and was a part of it, as much as any star, planet, asteroid, comet, or nebula."
These days Mae Jemison works to ramp up enthusiasm for travel beyond our solar system and wants the general public to be more involved than they were in the days of the Apollo program's race to the moon.
To that end, she's founded The Earth We Share, an international science camp to increase middle school and secondary school student’s science literacy and problem solving skills. "Science literacy is not about people becoming professional scientists, but rather being able to read an article in the newspaper about the health, the environment and figure out how to vote responsibly on it."
In addition, with seed money from the federal government, Dr. Jemison started
The 100-Year Starship to encourage the basic research necessary for sending humans to another star. Jemison and other scientists working to come up with perpetual, clean energy for interstellar travel believe their work could provide breakthroughs to deal with climate change here on earth.
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