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Meet Mae Jemison: The First Black Woman To Travel To Space

Meet Mae Jemison The First Black Woman To Travel To Space

Mae Carol Jemison was born on October 17, 1956, in Decatur, Alabama, U.S., and was an American physician and the first African American woman to become an astronaut. She spent more than a week in 1992 orbiting Earth in the space shuttle Endeavour.

At the age of three, Jemison moved with her family to Chicago. In Chicago, her uncle introduced her to science and developed interests throughout her childhood in anthropology, archaeology, evolution, and astronomy. While she was still a high school student, she became interested in biomedical engineering.

She graduated at the age of 16 in 1973 and proceeded to Stanford University. There in Standford, she received degrees in chemical engineering and African American studies (1977).

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Jemison entered medical school at Cornell University in 1992 in Ithaca, New York.  In school, she pursued an interest in international medicine. She studied in Kenya in 1979 at the end of volunteering for a summer in a Cambodian refugee camp in Thailand.

In 1981 she graduated from medical school and after working for a short time as a general practitioner with a Los Angeles medical group, she became a medical officer with the Peace Corps in West Africa. In West Africa, she managed health care for Peace Corps and U.S. embassy personnel and also worked in conjunction with the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control on several research projects, including the development of a hepatitis B vaccine.

After she returned to the United States, Jemison applied to be an astronaut with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) agency. Jemison was one of fifteen accepted applicants in October 1986. In 1988 Jemison completed her training as a mission specialist with NASA. 

At Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida she served as an astronaut office representative. Her work entailed processing space shuttles for launching and verifying shuttle software. She was next assigned to support a cooperative mission between the United States and Japan.

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The mission was designed to conduct experiments in materials processing and the life sciences. In September 1992, STS-47 Spacelab J became the first successful joint U.S.-Japan space mission.

Jemison’s maiden space flight came with the weeklong September 1992 mission of the shuttle Endeavour. She was the only African American woman astronaut at that time. At the completion of her NASA mission, she formed the Jemison Group to develop and market advanced technologies.


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