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Honoring Black History Month at the Air Zoo - Mae Jemison

Mae C. Jemison  

Born in Decatur Alabama in 1956, Mae Jemison moved with her family to Chicago, Illinois at age 3. As a child, Mae loved to dance and could be found in her school library in the science section thumbing through books about astronomy. While she watched and took interest in the news and broadcasts surrounding NASA’s Apollo Space Program, Mae felt disappointed by the absence of women astronauts. Mae appreciated what she saw in the role of Lieutenant Uhura of television’s Star Trek (1969-1991). The role of a strong, black woman in space, played by actress Nichelle Nichols, inspired Mae to shoot for the stars.  

Mae eared her Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering and a Bachelor of Arts in African and African American studies from Stanford University before pursuing her Doctor of Medicine from Cornell University Medical College. As a Cornell student, she spent time in Kenya and Cuba and her love of people led her to work at a Cambodian refugee camp in Thailand. Mae interned at the Los Angeles County Medical Center and later pursued a general medicine practice. By 1983, the need to touch lives drew Mae to join the Peace Corps where she contributed as a medical officer for two years.  

At the end of her Peace Corps experience, Mae took a leap toward space and applied for the astronaut space program. However, the mid-1980s proved difficult for NASA due to the devastating Challenger explosion in 1986. Ambitious, Mae reapplied in 1987 and of 15 candidates, she got the job.  
 
In 1992, Mae became the first black woman in space! She put her medical education to work by conducting experiments on weightlessness and motion sickness not only on her crew but also on herself. After returning home to Earth on September 20, 1992, Mae encouraged people to value the contributions that men, women, and members of other minority groups can make if only given a chance.  

A year following her historic space flight, Mae retired from NASA. She continued to dance and in a wonderful turn of events which connect back to her admiration of actress Nichelle Nichols, she appeared on an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1994).  

[image from National Museum of Air and Space, Smithsonian Institution, uploaded to the shared file.]  

 

 

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