Smart Girl Stories
Mae Jemison

Mae Jemison – Achieving Dreams In Space

As you know, here at SmartGirl Search, we are inspired by historical women who have made a difference in the world. Mae Jemison is one inspiring woman who deserves recognition as a historical figure whom many girls can look up to today. Mae Jemison is best known for being the first African-American woman to go into space. But her story leading up to her experience in space is also inspiring all on its own.

A medical doctor and professional dancer, Mae was inspired by the words of Nichelle Nichols, who played Uhura on the iconic television show Star Trek. “I realized that that wasn’t just science fiction,” Mae later said of the show. “It showed me that it was possible to dream of things that had not yet been created.”

Mae’s determination and talent led her to achieve her dream of becoming an astronaut, and in 1992 she took her place on the Space Shuttle Endeavour. Mae’s career is a reminder that anything is possible if you set your mind to it. She is an inspiration to women and girls everywhere, proving that we can reach for the stars.

Early Life

Mae Jemison was born on October 17th, 1956 in Decatur, Alabama, where she showed an early inclination for science and invention. As a young woman growing up in the 1970s, she often watched the Apollo broadcasts but was upset that she never saw female astronauts. This helped drive her determination to go into space one day.

Mae graduated high school in Chicago when she was 16, where she was involved in many extracurricular activities, including dance. Mae was an exceptional, talented dancer who would later choreograph a stage production called Out of the Shadows.

After graduating high school, Mae went to college at Stanford University in California, where she was actively involved in various extracurricular activities, including dance and theater productions, and served as head of the Black Student Union. Mae graduated in 1977 with a Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering and a Bachelor of Arts in African and African-American studies. Upon graduation, Mae set her sights on Cornell University Medical College. During her years there, she found time to expand her horizons by leading a study for the American Medical Student Association in Cuba and working at a Cambodian refugee camp in Thailand.

Mae graduated from Cornell University in 1981, receiving her Doctorate in Medicine. After graduating, she interned at the Los Angeles County Medical Center, soon practicing general medicine. But that wasn’t enough for Mae, who eventually decided to serve as a Peace Corps volunteer in Liberia, which added to her incredible life accomplishments. Mae soon found she was an essential asset in the Peace Corps as she was fluent in Japanese, Russian, and Swahili.

Mae’s Return To The United States

Following her return to the United States in 1985, Mae made a career change and applied to NASA’s astronaut program. However, shortly after, the Challenger Space Shuttle exploded, causing NASA to pause from taking in new people. She applied again in 1987, and became the first black woman admitted into NASA’s astronaut training program. She was joined by 15 other candidates for NASA Astronaut Group 12, being the first group after the explosion.

She then moved to Florida to complete her training at the Kennedy Space Center. She also worked at the Shuttle Avionics Integration Library, part of the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

On September 28, 1989, Mae was selected to join the STS-47 crew (her first mission), being a mission specialist. She and her crew went into space on September 12, 1992 aboard the Endeavor. The space shuttle orbited around the earth 127 times, returning to Earth on September 20, 1992. Mae ended up spending six years working as an astronaut for NASA until 1993.

Added Accomplishments

After ending her journey as an astronaut, Mae created The Jemison Group, a technology consulting firm that integrates subcultural problems into engineering designs and science projects. She began to teach environmental studies at Dartmouth College while directing the Jemison Institute for Advancing Technology in Developing Countries.

To add to her accomplishments, Mae created The Earth We Share (TEWS), an international space camp, in 1994. Then, she created an organization named the Dorothy Jemison Foundation for Excellence. In 2001, she wrote her first book, a children’s book about her life, called Find Where the Wind Goes.

Mae was even invited to be on Star Trek, after star, LeVar Burton found out that she was a huge fan. She agreed and played Lieutenant Palmer in “Second Chances”, being the first astronaut to act on an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Present Day

Now, she is leading a project, run through the United States Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA), called the 100 Year Starship project. This project ensures that human space travel to another planet is possible within the next 100 years.

Mae also works on the Board of Directors for the Kimberly-Clark Corporation, Scholastic Corporation, Valspar Corporation, Morehouse College, Texas Medical Center, Texas State Product Development and Small Business Incubator, Greater Houston Partnership Disaster Planning and Recovery, and the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering. She is a member of the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine and has been inducted into the National Medical Association Hall of Fame, the Texas Science Hall of Fame, and the National Women’s Hall of Fame, where she received many awards and honorary degrees. Mae currently resides in Houston, Texas.

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This blog post was co-written by Hannah and Sarah, a contributing writer to SGS.



Founder, Smart Girl, Survivor, Champion of womens rights and kids rights


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