First Black Woman in Space
Mae Jemison owes her status as the first black woman in space, in part, to a splinter she got as a young girl. The wound in her thumb became infected and oozed with a yellowish-white liquid.
"I ran and showed it to my mother and she was telling me it was pus," she recalled. "I was like, 'Well, what is that?' And I ended up doing this whole project, reading about pus."
Jemison's interest in science led her to spend many hours studying in the library. This interest was encouraged by her mother, Dorothy Green, who taught elementary school English and math, and her father, Charlie Jemison, a maintenance supervisor.
Jemison so excelled in school that she was accepted to Stanford University to study chemical engineering at the age of 16 in 1973.
"I was naive and stubborn enough that it didn't faze me," she said. "It's not until recently that I realized that 16 was particularly young or that there were even any issues associated with my parents having enough confidence in me to [allow me to] go that far away from home."
It was not easy entering a largely male field as a young black woman. "Some professors would just pretend I wasn't there. I would ask a question and a professor would act as if it was just so dumb, the dumbest question he had ever heard," she said. "Then, when a white guy would ask the same question, the professor would say, "That's a very astute observation.'"
Jemison graduated from Stanford in 1977 and then earned her medical degree from Cornell Medical College. During her time at Cornell, she traveled to Kenya, Thailand and Cuba to deliver medical care.
Jemison always had a dream of flying in space. One of her role models growing up was Nichelle Nichols, who played Lt. Uhura on "Star Trek."
Jemison applied to become an astronaut in 1983, but she was rejected. She joined the Peace Corps, serving in Liberia and Sierra Leone as a medical officer for two years.
In 1987, Jemison reapplied to NASA and was accepted. She completed training and was assigned to the STS-47 Spacelab-J mission, which launched on Sept. 12, 1992. Jemison became the first black woman in space.
"The first thing I saw from space was Chicago, my hometown," she recalled. "I was working on the mid-deck where there aren't many windows, and as we passed over Chicago, the commander called me up to the flight deck. It was such a significant moment because since I was a little girl I had always assumed I would go into space."
STS-47 Mission Specialist Mae Jemison in the Spacelab Japan (SLJ) science
module aboard Endeavour. Image Courtesy of NASA.
During the 8-day flight aboard Endeavour, Jemison operated a bone cell research experiment and conducted other research.
Following her spaceflight, Jemison appeared on an episode of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" when cast member LeVar Burton invited her to become a guest star on it. She was the first astronaut to ever appear on "Star Trek."
The first black woman in space flew only one time. Jemison left NASA the following year and founded the Jemison Group, a company that researches, markets and developments science and technology for use in daily life.
Link for First Black Woman in Space
Mae Jemison Biography
Mae Jemison Official Site