First African American woman in space
"Mae Jemison is an American engineer, physician and NASA astronaut. She became the first African American woman to travel in space when she went into orbit aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour on September 12, 1992. After medical school and a brief general practice, Jemison served in the Peace Corps from 1985 until 1987, when she was selected by NASA to join the astronaut corps. She resigned from NASA in 1993 to found a company researching the application of technology to daily life. She has appeared on television several times, including as an actress in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. She is a dancer and holds nine honorary doctorates in science, engineering, letters, and the humanities. She is the current principal of the 100 Year Starship organization.
In her childhood, Jemison learned to make connections to science by studying nature. Once when a splinter infected her thumb as a little girl, Jemison's mother turned it into a learning experience. She ended up doing a whole project about pus. Jemison's parents were very supportive of her interest in science, while her teachers were not. "In kindergarten, my teacher asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I told her a scientist," Jemison says. "She said, 'Don't you mean a nurse?' Now, there's nothing wrong with being a nurse, but that's not what I wanted to be." In an interview with Makers, she further explains how her sheer interest in science was not accepted. "Growing up...I was just like every other kid. I loved space, stars and dinosaurs. I always knew I wanted to explore. At the time of the Apollo airing, everybody was thrilled about space, but I remember being irritated that there were no women astronauts. People tried to explain that to me, and I did not buy it."
Jemison says she was inspired by Martin Luther King Jr.; to her King's dream was not an elusive fantasy but a call to action. "Too often people paint him like Santa – smiley and inoffensive," says Jemison. "But when I think of Martin Luther King, I think of attitude, audacity, and bravery." Jemison thinks the civil rights movement was all about breaking down the barriers to human potential. "The best way to make dreams come true is to wake up."
Jemison began dancing at the age of 11. "I love dancing! I took all kinds of dance — African dancing, ballet, jazz, modern — even Japanese dancing. I wanted to become a professional dancer," said Jemison… "I had a problem with the singing but I danced and acted pretty well enough for them to choose me. I think that people sometimes limit themselves and so rob themselves of the opportunity to realise their dreams. For me, I love the sciences and I also love the arts," says Jemison. "I saw the theatre as an outlet for this passion and so I decided to pursue this dream." Later during her senior year in college, she was trying to decide whether to go to New York to medical school or become a professional dancer. Her mother told her, "You can always dance if you're a doctor, but you can't doctor if you're a dancer."
Jemison graduated from Chicago's Morgan Park High School in 1973 and entered Stanford University at the age of 16. "I was naive and stubborn enough that it didn’t faze me," Jemison said. "It’s not until recently that I realized that 16 was particularly young or that there were even any issues associated with my parents having enough confidence in me to [allow me to] go that far away from home." Jemison graduated from Stanford in 1977, receiving a B.S. in chemical engineering and fulfilling the requirements for a B.A. in African and Afro-American Studies. At Stanford, she choreographed a musical and dance production called Out of the Shadows. She took initiative to get even further involved in the black community by serving as head of the Black Students Union in college. Jemison said that majoring in engineering as a black woman was difficult because race was always an issue in the United States.
"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.'"
In an interview with the Des Moines Register in 2008 Jemison said that it was difficult to go to Stanford at 16, but thinks her youthful arrogance may have helped her. "I did have to say, 'I'm going to do this and I don't give a crap (damn).'" She points out the unfairness of the necessity for women and minorities to have that attitude in some fields.
Jemison obtained her Doctor of Medicine degree in 1981 at Cornell Medical College. She interned at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center, and in 1982, she worked as a general practitioner. During medical school, Jemison traveled to Cuba, Kenya and Thailand, to provide primary medical care to people living there. During her years at Cornell Medical College, Jemison took lessons in modern dance at the Alvin Ailey school. Jemison later built a dance studio in her home and has choreographed and produced several shows of modern jazz and African dance.
After the flight of Sally Ride in 1983, Jemison felt the astronaut program had opened up, so she applied. Jemison's inspiration for joining NASA was African-American actress Nichelle Nichols, who portrayed Lieutenant Uhura on Star Trek. Jemison's involvement with NASA was delayed after the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986, but after reapplying in 1987, she received the news of her acceptance into the astronaut program. "I got a call saying 'Are you still interested?' and I said 'Yeah'," recalls Jemison, as one of fifteen candidates chosen out of roughly 2,000 applicants…
Jemison flew her only space mission from September 12 to 20, 1992, as a Mission Specialist on STS-47, a cooperative mission between the United States and Japan, as well as the 50th shuttle mission. Jemison was a co-investigator of two bone cell research experiments, one of 43 investigations that were done on STS-47. Jemison also conducted experiments on weightlessness and motion sickness on herself and six other crew members. "The first thing I saw from space was Chicago, my hometown," said Jemison. "I was working on the middeck where there aren't many windows, and as we passed over Chicago, the commander called me up to the flight deck. It was such a significant moment because since I was a little girl I had always assumed I would go into space," Jemison added. Despite NASA's rigid protocol, Jemison would begin each shift with a salute that only a Trekkie could appreciate. "Hailing frequencies open," she could be heard repeating throughout the eight-day mission.
Because of her love of dance and as a salute to creativity, Jemison took a poster from the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater along with her on the flight. "Many people do not see a connection between science and dance," says Jemison. "but I consider them both to be expressions of the boundless creativity that people have to share with one another." Jemison also took several small art objects from West African countries to symbolize that space belongs to all nations. Also on this flight, according to Bessie Coleman biographer Doris L. Rich, Jemison also took into orbit a photo of Coleman — Coleman was the very first African-American woman to ever fly an airplane.
Jemison is a Professor-at-Large at Cornell University and was a professor of Environmental Studies at Dartmouth College from 1995 to 2002. Jemison continues to advocate strongly in favor of science education and getting minority students interested in science. She sees science and technology as being very much a part of society, and African-Americans as having been deeply involved in U.S. science and technology from the beginning. She has been a member of various scientific organizations, such as the American Medical Association, the American Chemical Society, the Association for Space Explorers and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Additionally, she served on the board of directors of the World Sickle Cell Foundation from 1990 to 1992.
In 1993 Jemison founded her own company, the Jemison Group that researches, markets, and develops science and technology for daily life. Jemison founded the Dorothy Jemison Foundation for Excellence and named the foundation in honor of her mother. "My parents were the best scientists I knew," Jemison said, "because they were always asking questions." One of the projects of Jemison's foundation is The Earth We Share (TEWS), an international science camp where students, ages 12 to 16, work to solve current global problems, like "How Many People Can the Earth Hold" and "Predict the Hot Public Stocks of The Year 2030." The four-week residential program helps students build critical thinking and problem solving skills through an experiential curriculum. Camps have been held at Dartmouth College, Colorado School of Mines, Choate Rosemary Hall and other sites around the United States. TEWS was introduced internationally to high school students in day programs in South Africa and Tunisia. In 1999, TEWS was expanded overseas to adults at the Zermatt Creativity and Leadership Symposium held in Switzerland.
In 1999, Jemison founded BioSentient Corp and has been working to develop a portable device that allows mobile monitoring of the involuntary nervous system. BioSentient has obtained the license to commercialize NASA's space-age technology known as Autogenic Feedback Training Exercise (AFTE), a patented technique that uses biofeedback and autogenic therapy to allow patients to monitor and control their physiology as a possible treatment for anxiety and stress-related disorders. BioSentient is examining AFTE as a treatment for anxiety, nausea, migraine and tension headaches, chronic pain, hypertension and hypotension, and stress-related disorders."
In 2012, Jemison made the winning bid for the DARPA 100 Year Starship project through the Dorothy Jemison Foundation for Excellence. The Dorothy Jemison Foundation for Excellence was awarded a $500,000 grant for further work. The new organization maintained the organizational name 100 Year Starship. Jemison is the current principal of the 100 Year Starship." (1)