Mae Carol Jemison (born October 17, 1956) is an African American physician and NASA astronaut. She became the first woman of recent African ancestry to travel in space when she went into orbit aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour on September 12, 1992.
Mae Carol Jemison was born in Decatur, Alabama, the youngest child to Charlie Jemison and Dorothy Green. Her father was a maintenance supervisor for a charity organization, and her mother worked most of her career as an elementary school teacher of English and math at the Beethoven School in Chicago.1 The family moved to Chicago, Illinois, when Jemison was 3, to take advantage of better educational opportunities there. Jemison says that as a young girl growing up in Chicago she always assumed she would get into space. “I thought, by now, we’d be going into space like you were going to work.” She said it was easier to apply to be a shuttle astronaut, “rather than waiting around in a cornfield, waiting for ET to pick me up or something.”
After completing her medical internship, Jemison joined the staff of the Peace Corps and served as a Peace Corps Medical Officer from 1983 to 1985 responsible for the health of Peace Corps Volunteers serving in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Jemison’s work in the Peace Corps included supervising the pharmacy, laboratory, medical staff as well as providing medical care, writing self-care manuals, and developing and implementing guidelines for health and safety issues. Jemison also worked with the Center for Disease Control (CDC) helping with research for various vaccines.
Jemison is shown aboard Space Shuttle Endeavour during STS-47 preparing to deploy the lower body negative pressure (LBNP) apparatus.
Jemison on 1995 Azeri postage stamp.
In 1985 Jemison returned to the United States, entered private practice in Los Angeles as a general practitioner with CIGNA Health Plans of California then did engineering courses. After the flight of Sally Ride in 1983, Jemison felt the astronaut program had opened up enough for her to apply. Jemison’s inspiration for joining NASA was African-American actress Nichelle Nichols, who portrayed Lieutenant Uhura on Star Trek. Jemsion was turned down on her first application to NASA, but in 1987 Jemison was accepted on her second application and became one of the fifteen candidates accepted from over 2,000 applicants. “I got a call saying ‘Are you still interested?’ and I said ‘Yeah’,” says Jemison.
Her work with NASA before her shuttle launch included launch support activities at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and verification of Shuttle computer software in the Shuttle Avionics Integration Laboratory (SAIL).1719 “I did things like help to support the launch of vehicles at Kennedy Space Center,” said Jemison. “I was in the first class of astronauts selected after the Challenger accident back in 1986, ... [I] actually worked the launch of the first flight after the Challenger accident.
Jemison resigned from NASA in March 1993. “I left NASA because I’m very interested in how social sciences interact with technologies,” says Jemison. “People always think of technology as something having silicon in it. But a pencil is technology. Any language is technology. Technology is a tool we use to accomplish a particular task and when one talks about appropriate technology in developing countries, appropriate may mean anything from fire to solar electricity.” Although Jemison’s departure from NASA was amicable, NASA was not thrilled to see her leave. “NASA had spent a lot of money training her; she also filled a niche, obviously, being a woman of color,” says Hiram Hickam, a training manager for NASA’s space station efforts. In an interview with the Des Moines Register on October 16, 2008 Jemison said that she was not driven to be the “first black woman to go into space.” “I wouldn’t have cared less if 2,000 people had gone up before me … I would still have had my hand up, ‘I want to do this.’”
STS-47 Mission Specialist Mae Jemison appears to be clicking her heels in zero gravity in the center aisle of the Spacelab Japan (SLJ) science module aboard the Earth-orbiting Endeavour, Orbiter Vehicle (OV) 105. Making her only flight in space, Jemison was joined by five other NASA astronauts and a Japanese payload specialist for eight days of research in support of the SLJ mission, a joint effort between Japan and United States.
In 1993 Jemison started her own company, the Jemison Group that researches, markets, and develops science and technology for daily life. In 1993, Jemison also appeared on an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. LeVar Burton found out, from a friend that Jemison was a big Star Trek fan and asked her if she’d be interested in being on the show, and she said, “Yeah!!” The result was an appearance in the episode “Second Chances.” Jemison has the distinction of being the first real astronaut ever to appear on Star Trek.