The year 1992 became extremely significant when Mae Carol Jemison broke a barrier by becoming the first African American woman to go into space by traveling on Space Shuttle Endeavour. Jemison was born in Decatur, Alabama on October 17, 1956. She also made another lesser-known stride.
“I should remind you, yes, I was a medical doctor, but I was also an African Studies major in African American Studies. And so, when I went up into space, it wasn’t only I was the first Black woman. As hard as this is to believe, I was the first woman of color in the entire world to go up, which really made no sense after all those years,” Jemison recently said in a MSNBC News interview with Symone Sanders Towsend.
The pioneer worked as the science mission specialist on STS-47 Spacelab-J.
“The mission, which was a cooperative one between the U.S. and Japan, included 44 life science and materials processing experiments. Jemison was a co-investigator on the bone cell research experiment flown on the mission. In completing her first space flight, Jemison logged 190 hours, 30 minutes, 23 seconds in space,” per NASA’s report.
Jemison’s accomplishments predated a time when girls and women were widely supported in experiencing equitable STEM opportunities through internships, programs, mentorship and cultural opportunities. The United States Census Bureau’s statistics provide insight about the history of the underrepresentation of women in STEM occupations. Although women made up 38% of all U.S. workers in 1970, just eight percent were STEM workers.
“But by 2019, the STEM proportion had increased to 27% and women made up 48% of all workers,” per the Census’ article.
And when it comes to astronauts, “as of March 2022, 75 women have flown in space, including cosmonauts, astronauts, payload specialists, and space station participants,” according to NASA’s additional data.
Jemison stayed focused on her goal to achieve greatness, despite enduring racial and gender obstacles. She was a student who liked science in her youth. Exploring her interests paid off. The scholar “won a scholarship to Stanford University at age 16, graduating in 1977 with a degree in chemical engineering. She also fulfilled the degree requirements for a B.A. in African American Studies,” per information provided by Cornell University Weill Medical College.
Jemison earned her medical degree from Cornell Medical School. She also was a Peace Corps volunteer. Despite achieving these accomplishments, Jemison did not walk an easy path as a trailblazer. Jemison recalled experiences as Black female engineering major, when some professors pretended that she was not present.
“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 question, the professor would say, ‘That’s a very astute observation,’” Peace Corps Worldwide reported.
Jemison serves as an example of what a determined person can achieve, even against the odds. She was willing to do the work to prepare for her long-term goals.
“What I knew is I wanted to go into space. I was intending to be a scientist. I was intending to explore and be creative and to make a difference in this world,” Jemison said, per MSNBC News.
The engineer, physician and former NASA astronaut resigned from NASA in 1993, according to NASA. Jemison continued to evolve and give back to others. The Dorothy Jemison Foundation for Excellence (DJF) was founded by Dr. Jemison, along with several family members.
Jemison still has not lost sight of making a difference.
“Currently, Jemison is leading the 100 Year Starship project through the United States Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). This project works to make sure human space travel to another star is possible within the next 100 years,” the National Women’s History Museum reported.
Jemison was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame and the International Space Hall of Fame. “Find Where the Wind Goes” marked her debut as a children’s book author in 2001. Jemison is also the founder and president of the Jemison Group and BioSentient Corp. Researching, developing and marketing various advanced technologies are the purposes of them, according to Peace Corps Worldwide.
“Don’t let anyone rob you of your imagination, your creativity, or your curiosity. It’s your place in the world; it’s your life. Go on and do all you can with it, and make it the life you want to live,” Jemison once said.