Mae Jemison: The First African American Woman in Space

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As a member of the 7-person NASA crew aboard the space shuttle ‘Endeavour’, Mae Jemison became the first African American woman to travel to space. Before that point, NASA had only sent about 120 people to space with less than 4% of them being African-American. In September 1992, Mae joined that rank; going on a journey that only a few would have the opportunity of taking.

Like other women of color such as Bessie Coleman who made history as the first African-American woman pilot, Mae Jemison is a major inspiration to African girls worldwide. In this article, we would be diving into Mae’s early life, her education, fun facts about her, and of course, some of her famous quotes.

Early Life Of Mae Jemison

Born in Decatur, Alabama on  October 17, 1956, Mae Jemison was the youngest child of Charlie and Dorothy Jemison. Her family moved to Chicago when she was just three years old to benefit from the numerous opportunities available at that time.

Growing up, Mae was a big dreamer, and from an early age, she decided that she would go to space. She studied that Apollos program to the letter and figured out that most of the astronauts were white and predominantly males. But, those astronauts about the USS Enterprise in the movie Star Trek were different, particularly Lieutenant Uhura. This further cemented little Mae’s dream that it was possible for her to go to space.

Even as a child, Mae was exceptional. She graduated from Morgan Park High School at the age of 16 in 1976 and got accepted into Stanford on a National Achievement Scholarship. Although she loved science, Mae was also involved in other extracurricular activities such as dance and theatre production; and actively participated as the head of the Black Student Union in college.

Career Advancement And Achievements

Majoring in Chemical Engineering and African and African-American Studies, Mae Jemison graduated with honors in 1977. Because she wanted to study biomedical engineering, Ma continued her education at Cornell University Medical School. There, she was able to work in a Cambodian refugee camp in Thailand. She obtained her medical degree in 1981 and worked as a general practitioner for two and half years.

But she didn’t just become a doctor.

In 1983, she joined the Peace Corps in West Africa and became the Area Medical Officer for Sierra Leone and Liberia. She managed the Peace Corps medical and laboratory staff, wrote manuals for self-care, and helped develop guidelines for health issues. She carried out research with the CDC on rabies vaccines and was in charge of medical care for the U.S. Embassy. And guess what? She was just 27.

NASA Career

In spite of it all, Mae still wanted to go to space. Fueled by her childhood dreams to become an astronaut, Mae put her career aside and took a leap of faith. She applied for NASA’s training program after taking graduate-level courses in engineering. She was chosen, together with a handful of people, out of 2000 applicants that year to travel with NASA a journey to space.

From 12th to 20th of September 1992, Jemison made history when she took off aboard the space shuttle for eight days in space. As a Science Mission Specialist, a new role assigned by NASA, she conducted various experiments on human health and the development of embryos in space. Mae and the team completed 127 orbits around Earth, spending more than 190 hours in space.

Post-NASA Career

After her return, Jemison decided to take it easy and subsequently resigned from NASA in the following year. She later founded her own consultancy company, The Jemison Group, and a non-profit organization in honor of her mother to continue spreading knowledge to kids in unprivileged localities. Her organization also founded The Earth We Share, an international science camp for kids between the ages of twelve and sixteen.

In 1993, she guest-starred in the Star Trek: The Next Generation and got inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame that same year. Accolades poured in for her accomplishments, including honorary doctorates; and even a public school in Detriot was named after her.

15 Top Quotes By Mae Jemison

Looking for wise, powerful, and inspirational quotes? This Mae Jemison quotes will give you that courage and extra boost you need to pursue your dreams with profound determination despite circumstances.

  1. Timidity does not inspire bold acts.
  2. In life, you run into different people and see different things. It’s up to you to translate these things into who you are be unabashedly you.
  3. We each bring our own perspective to our work and world and what shame it would be to not use that perspective to bring our iterative thoughts to the world.
  4. We need to utilize our strengths but not so much that we don’t work on our weaknesses.
  5. When you have a goal that is far out and you approach it in little steps, you’ll get there faster.
  6. Never limit yourself because of others’ limited imagination; never limit others because of your own limited imagination.
  7. You have the right to be involved. You have something important to contribute, and you have to take the risk to contribute it.
  8. The only thing I have done throughout my life is to do the best job that I can and to always be me
  9. The biggest challenge is to overcome the things in yourself that keep you from moving forward.
  10. There are individuals who can support you, but frequently, you have to risk putting yourself out there – and sometimes you just have to push
  11. There is a fascination with the idea that one has ‘seen someone else do something’ before one can achieve it. Maybe that’s true in some cases, but clearly, it is not a requirement. I knew what I wanted to do.
  12. It’s your place in the world; it’s your life. Go on and do all you can with it, and make it the life you want to live.
  13. Don’t let anyone rob you of your imagination, your creativity, or your curiosity.
  14. Failure to recognize possibilities is the most dangerous and common mistake one can make.
  15. I knew full well that people expected me to behave in a certain way. I bucked the system.

Want more inspiring quotes from African-American women who made history? Also, check out these Bessie Coleman quotes.


Throughout Mae Jemison’s life, excellence in just one area of her life was just not enough.

From a daydreamer to becoming a doctor, an engineer, a philanthropist, and an astronaut, Mae has become one of the most accomplished African-American women of her time. Her life showed and is still showing young Africans and older ones that race, gender, and the color of your skin don’t limit you.



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