Black History Month: Mae C. Jemison The First African-American Woman to Fly to Space
Technology and Science has long been perceived as a male dominated world, and to a large extent this is usually true. Few women however, have set out to balance this imbalance in the equation. One such woman is Mae C. Jemison. Ms. Jemison in June 1987 was the first African-American woman who got admitted to the astronaut training program. Then later on the 12th September 1992 she became the first African-American woman to fly to space aboard the Endeavour on the mission STS47 with other six astronauts.
Space travel is considered as one of the most remarkable accomplishment in technology and science in the modern times. For Ms. Jemison to have had the opportunity to be admitted to NASA and having traveled to space is by far one of the most major achievement an African-American woman has had. Ms. Jemison was born on 17th October 1956 in Decatur, Alabama. She came from a very humble background, her father was a carpenter and a roofer and the mother was an elementary school teacher. When Jemison was 3 her family relocated to Chicago, Illinois to take advantage of the good education standards there.
Her parents noticed Jemison special interest in virtually all things to do with science, but with special interest with astronomy, and they encouraged her to pursue her interest. She joined Morgan Park High School, and it is said she spent a considerable part of her time at the school library. It was then that she decided that she will pursue her career in biomedical engineering. She graduated in 1973 with honors, and proceeded to Stanford University through a National Achievement Scholarship program. She graduated in 1977 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemical engineering, and then proceeded to Cornell University Medical College. During her studies there, she got the opportunity to expand her horizons by studying in Kenya and Cuba. She also worked in Cambodian refugee camp in Thailand.
Jemison got her M.D. in 1981 after which she got an internship program at Los Angeles County/University of Southern California Medical Center after which she started working as a general practitioner. She served as the area Peace Corps medical officer in Liberia and Sierra Leone as well as teaching and conducting medical research. She later returned to US in 1985, and decided to make a change in her career and pursued her childhood interests in astronomy. On October 1985 she applied for admission to the NASA’s astronaut training program. Although she was not successful the first time, due to the Challenger disaster on 1986, she later reapplied after 1 year and was one of the 15 candidates out of 2,000 who were lucky enough to get the admission.
She got admitted on 4th June 1987, thus becoming the first African-American woman to be admitted to the astronaut training program. After training for a little over a year, she became an astronaut and was given the title of science mission specialist. This meant she will be charged with the task of conducting scientific experiments that is related to the crew member while aboard the space shuttle.
She finally flew to space on 12th September 1992 with a crew of six aboard the Endeavor on mission STS47. Her space flight lasted for 8 days, during which she carried experiments on weightlessness and the motion sickness of the crew members and herself. After her space flight, she got several honors and recognitions as listed below:
- Essence Science and Technology Award in 1988.
- Ebony Black Achievement Award in 1992.
- Montgomery Fellowship from Dartmouth College in 1993.
- She was named Gamma Sigma Gamma Woman of the year in 1990.
- A public school in Detroit, Michigan was named after her: Mae C. Jemison Academy.
She was also a member of several distinguished organizations such as the American Chemical Society, American Medical Association and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. She was also one of the board directors for the World Sickle Cell Foundation from the year 1990 till 1992, she was an honorary board member of the Center for the Prevention of Childhood Malnutrition and she was part of the advisory committee member of the American Express Geography Competition. After resigning from astronomy in 1993, she served as a teacher at Dartmouth and later formed the Jemison Group Company whose work was in researching, developing and marketing advanced technologies.