Mae Carol Jemison is a woman out of this world! Not only is she an iconic engineer and physician, but she’s also the first black woman to ever fly into space. Astronauts for the STS-47 mission, Jemison, soared through the galaxy for 8 glorious days from September 12 to 20th in 1992.
A true leader, dedicated sleuth, and fearless pioneer, Mae has taken it upon herself to boldly go beyond what has been done before and make history! Her courage and unshaken faith have made her a mighty symbol of hope and assurance to people from all walks of life.
We salute her strength and congratulate her on being part of an incredible cosmic journey — one that we’ll never forget!
Mae Jemison Facts for Kids
- Mae Jemison was the first African American woman in space.
- She flew on the space shuttle Endeavour in 1992.
- Jemison was a doctor before becoming an astronaut.
- She has also worked as a teacher and engineer.
- Jemison founded a tech company focused on sustainability.
- She has received numerous awards and honors for her work.
Childhood and Educational Path
Mae Carol Jemison was born on October 17, 1956, in Decatur, Alabama, to the ever-inspiring Charlie and Dorothy Jemison. Mrs. Jemison was a stalwart teacher of English and math at the Ludwig van Beethoven Elementary School in Chicago, Illinois and Mr. Jemison was an esteemed maintenance supervisor for a charitable cause.
Mrs. Jemison ingrained proper motivation as well as supporting her children throughout their school years, each reaching successes beyond imagination for their age! Her youngest, Mae Carol, was no exception to this tenacity of faith and success.
Jemison’s love of science was cultivated early on by her mother, who encouraged her to explore the natural world and develop an understanding of human physiology.
Despite their support, she didn’t always get positive reinforcement from her teachers due to her gender, which further frustrated her when there were no female astronauts during the Apollo missions.
She was disturbed that the potential for women to play a role in space exploration was being overlooked. Later reflecting on this, she said: “
Everyone was thrilled about space, but I remember being really, really irritated that there were no women astronauts.”
This experience motivated Jemison to pursue a career in space travel despite the odds stacked against her.
Mae Jemison’s ambition and drive as embodied from a young age. At only 12 years old, she joined the cheerleading team and the Modern Dance Club, eager to learn various styles of dance, African and Japanese – in addition to ballet, jazz, and modern dance.
When Mae was just 14, she auditioned for the leading role of Maria in West Side Story! Although she didn’t get the part, her youthful confidence landed her a background dancer job.
Upon graduating high school at 16, Mae attended Stanford University – an impressive accomplishment made strangely more isolating by being one of the few other African American students.
Unfazed by her experience with discrimination among her teachers, she was elected head of the Black Students Union while also choreographing Out Of The Shadows – an extraordinary musical production centered around dance.
Though considering professional dancing upon graduation from Stanford in 1977 (with a bachelor’s in chemical engineering and African-American studies), ultimately, it was ambition for something greater that drove this woman.
In her senior year at Stanford, at long last, NASA’s application called out to her – positively responding to Mae’s internal tug toward discovery and exploration beyond Earth.
Work in The Medical Field
Jemison was a medical maverick, going above and beyond the call of her training to help people. At Cornell Medical School, she had already traveled to Cuba and Thailand and worked at a Cambodian refugee camp in East Africa with the Flying Doctors.
And while she was there, Jemison still managed to find time to study dance classes at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.
After graduating with an M.D., Jemison joined the staff of the Peace Corps in 1983 and served as a medical officer until 1985 in Liberia and Sierra Leone.
This gave her valuable experience directing pharmacy, laboratory, and medical staff, caring for patients and writing handbooks on self-care, as well as devising health regulations. And on top of that, she assisted with vaccine research at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta.
Her adventurous career proves that creative thinking can result in immensely innovative opportunities – even in healthcare!
Career as a NASA Astronaut
After the tragedy of the Challenger, many hesitated to join NASA’s Astronaut program. But Jemison had a strong belief that we cannot give up on our dreams – no matter what had happened. So she applied and was accepted into the special astronaut training program only a year after this tragic disaster.
The training schedule was rigorous: Energy-sapping physical workouts matched with weeks and months of intense scientific study. And if that wasn’t already tough enough, the psychological pressures were just as fierce.
However, Jemison was determined to show that even in these dire times, it was possible to become an astronaut and explore space up close.
And her unwavering commitment paid off – she became one of the fifteen people who persevered and passed all tests to become an Astronaut at NASA!
Soaring skyward on September 28, 1989, history was made when Mae Jemison was chosen to join the 50th mission on the Endeavour. She was assigned the important role of Mission Specialist 4 and Science Mission Specialist, a brand-new position designed by NASA for scientific progress.
The eight-day flight held countless highlights for Jemison, from logging 190 hours in space to ascending 127 orbits around Earth. Plus, she boldly opened her shift with “Hailing frequencies open” – a Star Trek reference for good measure.
A poster from Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater also stayed by her side, and she honored Bessie Coleman with a photo, too – the first African American with an international pilot license!
All in all, this mission will go down as an incredible example of ambition, innovation, and collaboration that challenged what we thought was possible.
Stepping Down From NASA
The resilient space explorer, Mae Jemison, was never one to stay in her comfort zone. After making history as the first African-American woman to venture into orbit and earning a place among our nation’s heroes, she left NASA with only a speedy space shuttle voyage’s worth of experience under her belt.
Yet the trailblazer did not slow down her astronomy ambitions – instead, she took off in pursuit of new opportunities in order to make an even greater difference beyond what traditional careers might offer.
A world outside the stars was where she aimed to pursue success.
NASA training manager Homer Hickam had helped bring Mae Jemison on board as part of his team and trained her for take-off before she left —and felt an immense sadness that someone he considered so capable had gone elsewhere.
Important Facts and Overview
Mae Jemison received her undergraduate degree in chemical engineering from Cornell University in 1983.
After completing her degree at Cornell, Mae Jemison went on to earn a medical degree from the University of California, Los Angeles.
In 1987, Mae Jemison was selected to be an astronaut by NASA and became the first Black woman to go to space in 1992 aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour.
In addition to her astronaut training, Mae Jemison has also received several honorary doctorates for her contributions to science and technology.
Mae Jemison has a strong interest in advanced technologies and has founded several companies focused on developing new products and services in areas such as energy and telecommunications.
During her time as an astronaut, Mae Jemison participated in one shuttle flight, but she has also worked on numerous other space-related projects, including conducting research on the space shuttle and International Space Station.