African-American Transportation History: Dr. Mae C. Jemison, Astronaut

In September 1992, Dr. Mae Jemison became the first African-American woman to fly into outer space when she went into orbit on board the Space Shuttle Endeavour. Jemison was born in 1956 in Decatur, Alabama, moving to Chicago with her family when she was only three years old. She earned a bachelor of science in chemical engineering from Stanford University in 1977 and a doctor of medicine degree from Weill Cornell Medicine College in 1981.

After serving in such capacities as a general practitioner in Los Angeles and a Peace Corps medical officer in Liberia and Sierra Leone, Jemison decided to pursue her childhood dream of space travel. She submitted an application to NASA and was accepted into the agency’s astronaut program in 1987.

Her pioneering space flight in 1992 happened to be the 50th shuttle mission to take place, and it was also a cooperative effort between the United States and Japan. Jemison served as the science mission specialist on Endeavour; her responsibilities included conducting experiments on weightlessness and motion sickness on herself and her six fellow crew members.

Jemison wrote about her experiences during this flight in a 2003 piece for the New York Times. “The first thing I saw from outer 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.” Jemison further noted, “It was such a significant moment because since I was a little girl I had always assumed I would go into outer space.”

The mission, which completed 126 orbits of the Earth, enabled Jemison to log in a total of 190 hours, 30 minutes, and 23 seconds in outer space. She left NASA in 1993, and her activities in the time since have included teaching at Cornell University and promoting science as an academic field for minority students.

For more information on Mae Jemison, please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mae_Jemison.

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