In writing this blog about Mae Jemison I hardly know where to start. She’s an astonishing woman.
She has a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry from Stanford University (she was 16 when she started her freshman year) and a Doctorate degree in medicine from Cornell. To quote from her NASA bio, she’d done work in the areas of “computer programming, printed wiring board materials, nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, computer magnetic disc production, and reproductive biology”.
She was a General Practitioner in medicine in the Los Angeles area and a Peace Corps Medical Officer in West Africa. She is fluent in four languages: English, Japanese, Russian and Swahili. As a young girl she became interested in dance and took professional dancing lessons in everything from jazz to ballet. When she was 14 she tried out for the role of Maria in a regional production of West Side Story. She didn’t get that part but she was cast as a back-up dancer in the musical.
In 1987 she was working on a graduate degree in engineering when NASA selected her as an astronaut candidate. In September of 1992, with the launch of Space Shuttle Endeavour, she made her first and only spaceflight as a Science Mission Specialist member of the crew of STS-47. That eight day flight was a joint American and Japanese mission focusing, in part, on the on life sciences. Jemison’s specialty on that flight was doing experimental research on bone cells in microgravity.
Jemison was an early fan of Star Trek and one of her inspirations for applying to NASA was her role model, the female African-American Lieutenant Uhura, played by Nichelle Nichols. During her Shuttle flight she started each wake-up shift with the call “Hailing frequencies open.” And taking her role model experience full circle after she left the astronaut corps, in 1993 she made a guest appearance in the Star Trek:The Next Generation episode “Second Chances” as Lieutenant Junior Grade Palmer!
Oh, did I mention that Mae Jemison was the first African-American woman to travel into space?
Dr. Mae Jemison left NASA in 1993 to focus on science and technology education and outreach, particularly on promoting interest in these areas by minority students. She established an international four-week science camp called “The Earth We Share” where attendees ages 12 to 16 use technology and science to work on example, but real world, projects like “How Many People Can the Earth Hold”.
Beyond her current teaching position as a Professor at Cornell University, Dr. Jemison is also one of the principals in what I think is the most exciting and ambitious endeavor in spaceflight since JFK’s challenge to put a man on the moon. It’s called 100 Year Starship and its objective is nothing less than, to quote from their website:
“To make the capability of human travel beyond our solar system a reality within the next 100 years.”
Its organizational backers, funding sources, sponsors, and leadership team are breathtaking. I’ll devote my next blog to sharing my discovery of this incredible project with you.
Copyright 2016 Dandelion Beach LLC Images: NASA, CBS Studios, The Dorothy Jemison Foundation, 100 Year Starship