Happy Black History Month! This is the 18th blog of a series of blogs called “Black History Month Heroes You Should Know”. This series will be a collection of my research into little-known Black Americans who have made history in one way or another (or multiple ways!).
The focus of today’s blog is Mae C. Jemison, the first Black woman to travel into space.
This is her story.
Early Interest in Astronomy
According to biography.com, Mae C. Jemison was born on October 17, 1956 in Alabama. Soon after she was born, her family moved to Chicago, where she would grow up. Jemison explored her interest in science as she grew up, specifically with astronomy. During this time, it was normal for her to spend many hours reading in the school library. Her parents, a roofer and teacher, were very supportive of her interests and talents in science.
After graduating from Morgan Park High School in Chicago, Jemison received a National Achievement Scholarship to attend Stanford University. There, she pursued a degree in chemical engineering while also engaging in theater and dance as well as becoming the head of the Black Student Union. After receiving her Bachelors of Science, Jemison attended Cornell University Medical College to pursue an M.D. While attending, she studied abroad in Cuba, Kenya, and a refugee camp in Thailand.
In 1981, Jemison received her M.D. and began her medical career by interning at the Los Angeles County/University of Southern California Medical Center, where she would later work. After that, she served in the Peace Corps as a medical officer in Sierra Leone and Liberia, where she also conducted medical research. After returning to the United States in 1985, she decided to make a career change.
First Black Woman To Become An Astronaut
In early 1987, Jemison applied to become an astronaut with NASA. She was accepted in June of the same year as one of 15 candidates out of over 2000. This made her the first Black woman to become an astronaut and more specifically a science mission specialist. After many years of training and preparation, Jemison became one astronaut out of seven to travel into space aboard Endeavour for 190 hours. While in space, Jemison conducted experiments surrounding weightlessness and motion sickness.
Life After Space Travel
Since then, Jemison has received a plethora of honors and awards for her time with NASA as well as her career in science. These honors include the 1988 Essence Science and Technology Award, the 1992 Ebony Black Achievement Award, and, from Dartmouth College, a Montgomery Fellowship in 1993. In addition, Jemison was named the Gamma Sigma Gamma Woman of the Year in 1990. Still involved with many organizations, she started the Jemison Group dedicated to researching advanced technologies. She now teaches at Dartmouth. Read more about Mae C. Jemison here.
Read another article from the “Black History Month Heroes You Should Know” blog series here.