First African-American Female Astronaut
February 1, 2012 by staff
First African-American Female Astronaut, Chemical engineer, scientist, physician, teacher and astronaut, Dr. Mae Jemison has a wide range of experience in technology, engineering, and medical research. In addition to her extensive background in science, she is well-versed in African and African-American Studies, speaks fluent Russian, Japanese, and Swahili, as well as English and is trained in dance and choreography.
On October 17, 1956, the city of Decatur, AL saw the birth of a remarkable woman, Mae Jemison. The youngest of three children born to Charlie Jemison, a maintenance worker and his wife, Dorothy, a teacher, Mae moved with her family to Chicago at the age of three.
Mae Jemison’s Education:
After graduating from Morgan Park High School in 1973 at the age of 16, Dr. Mae Jemison earned a BS in Chemical Engineering from Stanford University, while also fulfilling the requirements for a BA in African-American Studies. After earning these degrees in 1977, she attended Cornell University and received a Doctor of Medicine degree in 1981. During medical school she traveled to Cuba, Kenya and Thailand, providing primary medical care to people living there.
Demonstrating her compassion, Dr. Mae Jemison served in the Peace Corps, from January 1983 to June 1985. She shared her abilities in Sierra Leone and Liberia, West Africa as the area Peace Corps medical officer. Among her duties, she supervised the pharmacy, laboratory, medical staff as well as provided medical care, wrote self-care manuals, developed and implemented guidelines for health and safety issues. Also working in conjunction with the Center for Disease Control (CDC) she helped with research for various vaccines.
Applying to NASA’s Astronaut Program:
Upon completion of her Peace Corps duties, Dr. Mae Jemison returned to the US, accepting a position with the CIGNA Health Plans of California as a general practitioner in Los Angeles, California. Having a desire to do more with her life, she enrolled in graduate classes in engineering and applied to NASA for admission to the astronaut program. She was turned down on her first application, but persevered and in 1987 was accepted on her second application. She became one of the fifteen candidates accepted from over 2,000 applicants.
When Dr. Mae Jemison successfully completed her astronaut training program in August 1988, she became the fifth black astronaut and the first black female astronaut in NASA history. Her technical assignments included: launch support activities at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida; verification of Shuttle computer software in the Shuttle Avionics Integration Laboratory (SAIL), Science Support Group activities.
Dr. Mae Jemison was the science mission specialist on STS-47 Spacelab-J (September 12-20, 1992). STS-47 was a cooperative mission between the United States and Japan. The eight-day mission was accomplished in 127 orbits of the Earth, and included 44 Japanese and U.S. life science and materials processing experiments. Dr. Mae Jemison was a co-investigator on the bone cell research experiment flown on the mission. The Endeavour and her crew launched from and returned to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. In completing her first space flight, Dr. Mae Jemison logged 190 hours, 30 minutes, 23 seconds in space, making her the first African-American woman in space.
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