On September 12th, 1992, aboard the Endeavor, Mae C. Jemison became the first African-American woman in space. On the shuttle, she was the science mission specialist and conducted experiments on weightlessness and motion sickness. Mae was also the first African-American woman to be admitted into NASA's astronaut training program.
At only 16, she attended Stanford and studied biomedical and chemical engineering. Mae was active in many dance and theater performances and served as the leader of the Black Student Union. As a black woman in engineering, she said, "Some professors would just pretend I wasn't there. I would ask a question and a professor would act as if it was just so dumb, the dumbest question he had ever heard. Then, when a white guy would ask the same question, the professor would say, 'That's a very astute observation.'" Mae gives credit to her youthful arrogance to help her overcome these challenges and said: "I did have to say, 'I'm going to do this and I don't give a damn.'" After Stanford, she then attended Cornell for medical school and earned her M.D.
Mae was very passionate about helping the less fortunate, so she became a medical officer for the Peace Corps in Sierra Leone and Liberia. There she supervised the labs, provided medical care, wrote self-care manuals and developed health and safety guidelines. While she was there, one of the volunteers came down with meningitis and could not be fully treated in Sierra Leone. Jemison took the initiative to call for a hospital plane to take them to Germany. The embassy questioned her expensive order and she informed them that she did not need anyone's permission to make a medical decision. Jemison stayed up with the patient for almost 56 hours and because of her actions, the patient survived.
Mae brought a few items from home with her to space. She brought some small trinkets from West African countries to symbolize that space is for all nations. She brought a picture of Bessie Coleman, her role model and the first African-American woman to fly a plane. And she brought a poster from the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Mae says, "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."
Mae's confidence and passion for helping others is an inspiration. Even from a small start growing up in Chicago, Mae's perseverance has let her reach the stars.
To learn more about Mae, she has published a series of children's books for 3rd to 5th graders. Check them out here.