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Last updated on April 17, 2014 at 15:43 EDT

Mae Jemison

Mae Jemison is an American physician, NASA astronaut, and was the first black woman to travel to space. She was born Mae Carol Jemison on October 17, 1956 in Decatur, Alabama. Her family moved to Chicago, Illinois when she was younger, and she assumed that spaceflight would become a common travel for civilians by the time she was an adult. She was inspired by Martin Luther King Jr. and Nichelle Nichols. She graduated from Morgan Park High School in 1973 at age sixteen. She immediately entered Stanford University, where she graduated with a Bachelor of Science in engineering in 1977. She then furthered her studies at Cornell Medical College, where she received her Doctor of Medicine degree in 1981. While there, she traveled to Cuba, Kenya and Thailand to provide medical care for citizens and took modern dance lessons at the Alvin Ailey School. After receiving her doctorate, she interned at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center and later became a general practitioner.

In 1983, Jemison joined the Peace Corps and served as an officer responsible for the health of Peace Corps Volunteers serving in Liberia and Sierra Leone until 1985. At one point during her service with the Peace Corps, she questioned another doctor’s diagnosis and went beyond her role to request extra medical care for the patient, who survived the illness. After the trying experience, Jemison decided to apply with NASA. She was initially turned down, but was accepted after her second application in 1987. Her initial assignments included verification of Shuttle computer software in the Shuttle Avionics Integration Laboratory and launch support activities at the Kennedy Space Center.

In 1992, Jemison flew as a Mission Specialist on her only space mission and became the first black woman to travel to space. STS-47 launched aboard Space Shuttle Endeavour on September 12, and Jemison took with her a poster and several small pieces of art with her to symbolize that space belongs to all nations. The mission worked closely with Japan to study life science and carry out material-processing experiments, with Jemison as the co-investigator on the bone cell research experiment they did. The crew landed back at the Kennedy Space Center on September 20, and Jemison logged 190 hours, 30 minutes, 23 seconds in space. Less than a year later, in March 1993, Jemison resigned from NASA and founded her own company called the Jemison Group, which focuses on the development of technology for every day living. She also founded the Dorothy Jemison Foundation for Excellence in honor of her mother. One of the projects of the foundation is called The Earth We Share and gives teenage students the opportunity to build critical thinking and problem solving skills through an experiential curriculum. Eventually the foundation was introduced overseas.

In 1999, Jemison founded BioSentient Corp and has since been working to develop a device that allows remote monitoring of the involuntary nervous system. She has made multiple appearances on various TV shows, interviews, and volunteer events. Jemison is a Professor-at-Large at Cornell University and continues to advocate for minority students interested in science.

Image Caption: US astronaut Mae Jemison at Kennedy Space Center. Credit: NASA/Wikipedia

Mae Jemison