Mae Jemison was born in Decatur, Alabama on October 17, 1956 to Charlie and Dorothy Jemison. She was the youngest of three children, with both an older brother and sister. Jemison was only three years old when her family moved to Chicago; which she considers her home. Jemison’s parents thought that there would be better opportunities there, especially regarding education. Little did her family know that, one day, Mae would be the first African American woman in space.
Jemison’s inspiration for joining NASA was Nichelle Nichols, who portrayed Lieutenant Uhura on Star Trek. As a kid, she was highly interested in anthropology, astronomy, and archeology. Jemison has been quoted as saying:
I thought, by now, we’d be going into space like you were going to work.
Jemison was highly academic and engaged. Her academic honors led her to Stanford at the age of only sixteen; and she received degrees in both Chemical Engineering as well as African American Studies. Eventually, she completed a medical degree at Cornell University too.
After graduation, Jemison joined the Peace Corps; working in West Africa. “Once while serving as a doctor for the Peace Corps, a volunteer got sick and another doctor was diagnosed with malaria. The volunteer got progressively worse and Jemison was sure it was meningitis with life-threatening complications that could not be treated in Sierra Leone. Jemison called for an Air Force hospital plane based in Germany for a military medical evacuation at a cost of $80,000. The embassy questioned whether Jemison had the authority to give such an order but she told them she didn’t need anyone’s permission for a medical decision. By the time the plane reached Germany with Jemison and the volunteer on board, she had been up with the patient for 56 hours. The patient survived.” Via
Like many people, Jemison didn’t achieve her dream right away. On her first application to NASA, Jemison was, sadly, turned down. It wasn’t until 1987 that they called to ask if she was still interested. Of course, she was! Jemison then became the very first African American woman to ever be accepted into the space program. “After more than a year of training, she became an astronaut with the title of science mission specialist, a job which would make her responsible for conducting crew related scientific experiments on the space shuttle. On September 12, 1992, Jemison finally flew into space with six other astronauts aboard the Endeavour on mission STS47. During her eight days in space, she conducted experiments on weightlessness and motion sickness on the crew and herself.” Via
Mae Jemison eventually left NASA to explore other interests, regarding technology. She also appeared in an episode of Star Trek The Next Generation; just like her childhood hero Nichelle Nichols.