Biography of Astronaut Mae Jemison

Mae Jemison (1956-present) is a retired American astronaut and doctor. She flew into space once aboard the Space Shuttle in 1992, becoming the first African-American woman in space.

– Early Years and Career –

Jemison was born to a non-profit worker and teacher in Decatur, Georgia, but she grew up in Chicago, where she dreamed of becoming an astronaut. As a child she loved science and dance, before attending Stanford University at 16 years old (admitted young due to her extreme intelligence) to study chemical engineering and African-American studies. In 1981, she gained an additional credential, becoming a medical doctor at Cornell.

Initially, as a young doctor, Jemison spent time in the U.S. Peace Corps, working in the African countries of Sierra Leone and Liberia. However, when the first American woman in space, Sally Ride, flew on the Space Shuttle in 1983, Jemison decided her first childhood dream could be pursued after all. She applied to NASA and, in 1987, was accepted into the astronaut corps.

– Time in NASA –

After several years working in various support roles at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Jemison’s chance to go into space finally came on the Space Shuttle Endeavour’s mission STS-47, in September 1992. Jemison was assigned a spot as a mission specialist, a position generally given to medical and scientific experts conducting experiments or other activities in NASA flights (in addition to the commander, the pilot, and the engineer, which are core positions filled on all flights).

Endeavour’s week-long mission was jointly planned by the U.S. and Japan, which contributed a number of the onboard experiments.

– Post-Space Career –

Jemison resigned from NASA a year after her space flight, in 1993, citing an interest in working in social sciences. Her departure was somewhat controversial, with administrators at NASA allegedly displeased that she left after a single space flight despite the exorbitant cost of her professional training in the astronaut corps. (At the time, with the Space Shuttles at the peak of their careers, NASA expected more than a single space flight out of each of its astronaut recruits.)

Instead, Jemison went into the private and non-profit sectors, founding the Jemison Group company to research science and technology issues, and then a charitable foundation named after her mother. Over the past fifteen years, her interest in social science and technology has continued, and she has contributed to the marketing of new medical devices as well as several medical non-profit causes. She was a professor of environmental studies at Dartmouth during the 1990s, and is now a Cornell public intellectual.