Dr. Mae Jemison – NASA Astronaut

Dr. Mae Jemison

“Space exploration was always something I wanted to do” – Dr. Mae Jemison during her TED Talk on how interstellar travel will require teams of individuals from multiple disciplines.


Image of Dr. Jemison. [5]
Name: Dr. Mae Carol Jemison

Life: 17/10/18 – Present (62 Years)

Born: Decatur, Alabama, United States


BSc Chemical Engineering + enough credits to fulfill a B.A. in African and African American Studies, Stanford University

Doctorate Degree in Medicine, Cornell University

Occupation: Astronaut, Engineer, Physician, Dancer, Actor and Founder + President of two companies.


Who is Dr. Mae Jemison?

Dr. Mae Jemison is an American engineer, physician, dancer and most famously, a NASA astronaut. On the 12th September 1992 she made history by becoming the first Black female astronaut when she was among the crew of the mission STS-47, taking her into orbit aboard the space shuttle Endeavour. In addition to this she has spent time volunteering in the Peace Corps, and was also briefly a General Practitioner and now dedicates her time to the 100 Year Starship organisation.

In recognition of her excellent work throughout her career she has received multiple awards.



Born in 1956 to Charlie and Dorothy Jemison, a carpenter and teacher respectively, Mae moved at a young age (3 years old) to Chicago with her parents and two older siblings to take advantage of better schooling and employment options. It was in this city that she would grow up and would consider to be her home. [1][3][6]

Dr. Jemison recalls always being interested in science, where even at a young age she would draw connections between science and nature. Her parents were always supportive of this and encouraged her interests, turning many of her childhood experiences into learning opportunities. She even did an entire experiment on pus after she got a splinter in her thumb.[1][3][6]

In school however, people  were not as welcoming. She remembers her teachers asking her what she wanted to be and when she responded with “a scientist”, her teacher immediately replied “Don’t you mean a nurse?”. Additionally when asked about watching the Apollo 11 Mission via the Apollo airing she remarks that her overriding memory of it was that of irritation in that there were no women of colour, people of colour or even white women being shown to be involved.[1]

By age 11, she had fallen in love with dancing, and continued this alongside her education. She also excelled in school, being a consistent honours student whilst also auditioning in and participating in multiple school plays.  Dr. Jemison graduated in 1973 (at age 16!) entering Stanford University to study Chemical Engineering on a National Achievement Scholarship.[1][3][6]

Whilst attending Stanford she was deeply involved in extracurricular activities, which included her dancing/participation in theatre productions as well as serving as head of Black Student Union. However due to racism at the time she found completing the degree to be extremely difficult. Many lecturers would ignore her and pretend she didn’t exist whilst others would ridicule her for asking question but praise her white peers when they would ask the exact same question. Due to her resilience she managed to complete her further education studies, however she does note how unfair it is that women of colour have to suffer through years of ridicule, mockery and blatant racism to succeed, whereas white people never have these experiences.

She graduated in ‘77 with not only her BSc in Chemical Engineering, but also enough credits to achieve an additional B.A. in African and African American studies, and she then continued her studies at Cornell University to obtain her Medical Doctorate in 1981. Whilst studying at Cornell Medical College, she was still dancing, taking lessons at Alvin Ailey school, as well as having a studio built in her home. She then took the opportunity to expand her horizons, and travelled abroad to study in Cuba and Kenya, after which she would work in a refugee camp in Thailand.[1][2][3][6]

Career + The First Black Female Astronaut in History

Upon returning to the United States and obtaining her M.D. she interned at Los Angeles County/University of Southern California Medical Centre in July 1982 and following this worked as a GP until December 1982. [1][2][3]

She then spent 2.5 years in West Africa (from ‘83-’85) working as a medical officer for Sierra Leone and Liberia in the Peace Corps. It was during this time that Sally Ride would become the first female astronaut and Nichelle Nichols would appear as Lieutenant Uhura on Star Trek (marking one of the first times that a black actress would not play a slave/servant on television), and this would prove to be a large source of inspiration and motivation for Dr. Jemison, renewing the interest in space travel and becoming an astronaut. [1][6]

Image result for mae jemison
Dr. Jemison alongside co-star Nichelle Nichols. Source: https://goo.gl/3V6AJ1

Feeling that more opportunities had opened up for women of colour and women in America, she applied to the NASA Astronaut Program. She was one of the fifteen candidates accepted from approximately 2000 applications and following a year of intense training on 12th September 1992 she would make history aboard the space shuttle Endeavour, becoming the first Woman of Colour to become an astronaut.[1][2][3][6]

In her time aboard the Space Shuttle she served as a mission specialist, focusing on several experiments which included two bone cell research experiments, experiments on weightlessness as well as several on motion sickness. [1][3][4][5]

The flight lasted for 8 days with the crew and shuttle returning to Earth on the 20th. Overall she spent 190 hours, 30 minutes and 23 seconds in space. Following her historic flight she spoke out noting that society needs to recognise the amount that minority groups can contribute to science if given the opportunity. [1][5][6]

Resignation from NASA

Dr. Jemison resigned from NASA in March of 1993. She only completed one space flight in her career as an astronaut. She states that this was due to wanting to study about how technology and social science interact. She went on to teach at Dartmouth College whilst also founding the Jemison Group, a consultancy company which integrates social and cultural issues into engineering designs. (Examples include making satellite technology for health care delivery and solar energy for developing countries). She also appeared in an episode of Star Trek and to this day she is still the only real astronaut to have done so. (Her character was “Lieutenant Palmer” in The Next Generation episode “Second Chances”). [1][5][6][7]

Image result for mae jemison

Dr. Jemison appearing in Star Trek as Lieutenant Palmer. Source: https://goo.gl/3NEpwZ

In 1994 she founded The Earth We Share (TEWS) science camp for 12-16 year olds and currently she continues to work in astronomy leading the 100-Year Starship program, which works towards making human space flight outside of our solar system a reality in the next century. [5][6]

Much of Dr. Jemison’s work has been omitted from this article in the interest of making it a reasonable length for both the reader and the author. A list of her extensive and well deserved honours can be found below, as well as links to references and further reading on her brilliant work.

A list of Honours + Awards Bestowed on Dr. Jemison

General Awards


Honorary doctorates


References are categorised by the following types:

🗒️ = Written 

🎧 = Audio

💻 = Video

[1]🗒️ – Wikipeida – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mae_Jemison

[2]🗒️ – Nasa Biography Page – https://www.jsc.nasa.gov/Bios/htmlbios/jemison-mc.html

[3]🗒️ – Biography – https://www.biography.com/people/mae-c-jemison-9542378

[4]🗒️ – Mae C. Jemison official website – http://www.drmae.com/meet-dr-mae/bio/

[5]🗒️ – National Geographic Article – https://www.nationalgeographic.com.au/people/dr-mae-jemison-bio.aspx

[6]🗒️ – Space.com Article – https://www.space.com/17169-mae-jemison-biography.html

[7]🗒️ – Memory-Alpha Wiki – http://memory-alpha.wikia.com/wiki/Palmer_(Lieutenant_JG)

For more on Dr. Jemison see the following links:

Her Twitterhttps://twitter.com/maejemison  

The Dorothy Jemison Foundation – http://jemisonfoundation.org/about/mae-jemison/

Her Ted Talk on Interstellar Travel – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LooEeJyd3AY

Articles on her from Stanford University – https://www.stanford.edu/search/?q=mae+jemison&search_type=web&submit=

Articles on her from Cornell University – https://www.cornell.edu/search/?q=mae+jemison&submit-search=

Authors Note: Dr. Mae Jemison is a excellent scientist and a living legend. Her work in all of STEM has been outstanding but she also reminds us, through her actions, of her many other talents in other fields. Her titanic will and drive got her through several years of racism in higher education, but she never allowed herself to be cornered and continues to thrive in many different fields. Much of her work focuses on helping underprivileged minorities and as a scientist, artist and business owner Dr. Jemison has achieved more that what many would dare to dream of in one lifetime. Her achievements continue to shine as nothing less than outstanding.

For more information on POC scientists please visit our resources page or read through the rest of our blog. We are constantly updating both.

Written by Karel Green. For more information see the about page or follow her on twitter @thisismeonline.

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