Mae Jemison: The Astronaut and Physician Who Was the First Black Woman to Travel in Space

Mae Jemison is an inspiration and a trailblazer in the field of science and technology. She is best known for being the first black woman to travel in space, in 1992. But what made Mae a unique female trailblazer for being the first African American astronaut? Her accomplishment was certainly a milestone in the history of space exploration but her significance to humanity as an African-American woman carries more importance beyond her accomplishments in space. 

This article will explore Mae’s history, inspirational steps and contributions to science, and her contemporary influence that still inspires generations of women and African Americans in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education.

A Brief Biography

Mae C. Jemison was born on October 17, 1956 in Decatur, Alabama. She received a Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering from Stanford University in 1977, and attended Cornell Medical School to become a doctor. After medical school, Jemison worked as a medical officer in the Peace Corps in Liberia and Sierra Leone from 1983-1985. She also had a few stints practicing medicine in Los Angeles before becoming an astronaut.

In 1987, Jemison applied for NASA’s astronaut program and became one of fifteen applicants selected out of 2,000. After completing training in 1988, Jemison was qualified for flight assignment as a Mission Specialist.

First Black Female Astronaut

In 1992, Jemison became the first African American woman and the first woman of color in space after being selected as the mission specialist on board the Space Shuttle Endeavor. Her mission, STS-47 Spacelab-J, was the first joint Space Shuttle mission between Japanese and American astronauts.

On her mission, Jemison was responsible for many science experiments in space. She experienced zero gravity and deployed a satellite from the shuttle and experimented with gyroscopic stabilization in space. She also conducted experiments in bone and tissue cell research and public education broadcasts for students in the United States and Japan.

Inspiring Women and African Americans

Jemison has certainly been an inspiration for African Americans, women and students aspiring for a career in STEM. She was part of the first class of female astronauts that conducted several important missions in space. The press coverage from her mission significantly increased the awareness of women and African-Americans in the field of science.

Jemison serves as an example of hard work and dedication to the field being rewarded with successful results. Her passion and commitment to her work inspired many young African American women to reach higher and work harder to advance their respective careers.

Mae was passionate about improving STEM education and awareness with the younger population. She created a science camp specifically for K-12 students to inspire interest in the sciences, the Mae Jemison Academy. Additionally, she sat on boards of several organizations devoted to exposing youth, particularly minorities, to science and technology.

Influence Still Evident Today

Mae Jemison’s influence can still be seen today. In honor of her life’s work in the field of science, she is remembered as an important figure in space exploration and an inspiration to new generations of both women and African Americans. The Mae Jemison Foundation continues to work towards Jemison’s mission of inspiring and educating students of underrepresented and marginalized backgrounds.

Jemison’s story has been covered over the years on numerous platforms, from documentaries to online platforms. She has also been featured in several television shows and specials, in an effort to educate and inspire future generations. Further, she has been the recipient of many awards and recognition for her groundbreaking accomplishments and her dedication to inspiring the next generation of scientists and technologists.

Mae Jemison has certainly proved to be a valuable figure in space exploration, particularly at a time when minorities were not widely represented. She worked hard to overcome her obstacles and blaze the path for other women inspiring them to work hard and excel. Her mission of inspiring the next generation of scientist and technologists lives on through her work at the Mae Jemison Foundation and the other organizations she serves on. Mae Jemison is a true role model and an inspirational African American who made history by being the first black woman to travel in space.