Have you ever heard of Mae Jemison? How about Dr. Mae Carol Jemison? Still no? Well she just happened to be the first ever black woman to travel to space. She was not only a famous NASA astronaut, but also a physician. It’s the kind of combination that will make anyone quite interesting.
She Entered College At An Early Age
At 16 years old, Mae Jemison already entered Stanford University, pursuing a degree in Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering. She completed her degree in 1977, and fulfilled requirements for a Bachelor of Arts in African and Afro-American Studies.
Her College Life Was Not Easy
During her time, racial discrimination was still prevalent in America. In addition, she was a black woman majoring in engineering. She was often ignored and a majority of her professors would pretend she doesn’t exist. Every time she asked a question, a professor would act as if it was the dumbest question ever made only to retract when a white person asks the exact same question.
Strong Interest In Science
When she was just a little girl, a splinter infected her thumb. Her mother turned it into a learning experience instead of a painful one. This resulted in Jemison completing a whole project about pus. Her interest and affinity for science has been developed since she was young that she told her teacher she wanted to be a scientist when she grew up. But the teacher thought she meant to become a nurse.
Inspired by Martin Luther King Jr
For Mae Jemison, King’s dream was not an impossible dream, as what most people believed at that time, but a call to action. She associated Martin Luther King Jr with audacity, attitude and bravery, instead of what most people often paint him, “like Santa – smiley and offensive”. She considered the Civil Rights Movement as a way to break down the barriers that keep humans from reaching their potentials. According to her, “The best way to make dreams come true is to wake up”.
A Woman With Many Talents
She had 9 honorary doctorates in various fields, a good dancer, and an actress.
Doctor of Medicine at Cornell University
She earned her degree in 1981 and had her internship at the Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center. She later became a general practitioner. Her choice to become a doctor was something she thought of during her senior year in college. But she was torn between becoming a doctor and a professional dancer. Her mother helped her make a wise decision by imparting equally wise words, “You can always dance if you’re a doctor, but you can’t doctor if you’re a dancer”.
While studying medicine, she also took modern dance lessons at the Alvin Ailey school. But even at a young age, her talent in dancing had been obvious. She learned a wide range of dances, from African to modern. She even did a bit of Japanese dancing, which might seem unusual for a black woman. But Jemison managed to achieve both her goals – doctor and dancer, almost at the same time. She opened a dance studio in her home, and went on to produce several shows and choreographed African dance and modern jazz.
She appeared in several TV shows and even played a role on the TV series Star Trek: The Next Generation, as Lieutenant junior grade Palmer. Her 1993 appearance in the sixth episode “Second Chances” gave her the distinction of being the first real astronaut to ever appear on the show. Many other astronauts then followed after her. Her acting stint in the space-oriented show was considered a mutual love affair between the fictional Starfleet of Star Trek and the real NASA space program in America. She also appeared in a forum with First Lady Michelle Obama.
Between 1995 and 2002, she was a professor of Environmental Studies at Dartmouth College. She was a Professor-at-Large at Cornell University.
Served in the Peace Corps
She joined the Peace Corps upon completion of her medical training and served as Peace Corps Medical Officer. Part of her job was to write self-care manuals, and develop and implement health and safety guidelines. During her time in the Peace Corps, she saved the life of a volunteer doctor who was diagnosed with malaria, but what Jemison perceived as meningitis.
In 1992, Mae Jemison traveled to space aboard the Endeavor. She became the first black female in space. From September 12 to 20, 1992, she flew her only space mission as a Mission Specialist on STS-47, a cooperative mission between Japan and United States.
What was the first thing she saw from space? “Chicago, my hometown”. During her mission, she took with her a poster from the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, because she thinks there is a connection between dance and science. “Many people do not see a connection between science and dance. But I consider them both to be expressions of the boundless creativity that people have to share with one another.”
When anyone else would have stayed with NASA and endeavor to travel more to space, Jemison took off her astronaut’s gear for good in March 1993, for the very reason that she was more interested in the interaction between technology and social sciences. Homer Hickam, author and NASA training manager, expressed some regret over her resignation.
She started her own company Jemison Group that are heavily involved in science and technology for daily life. In honor of her mother, she founded the Dorothy Jemison Foundation for Excellence. According to her, “My parents were the best scientists I knew, because they were always asking questions”. She also founded BioSentient Corp in 1999 that is developing a portable device with the ability to monitor involuntary nervous system remotely.
A dancer and scientist rolled into one make Mae Jemison a very interesting individual. The list of her achievements can go on and on, and she is still unlikely to stop finding ways to change the world for the better.