Mae Jemison: Trailblazer
Updated: Feb 22, 2022
While Yuri Gagarin became the first human to travel to outer space in 1961 (and Alan Shepard as the first American in space shortly thereafter), it wasn’t until more than 30 years later that Mae Jemison became the first black woman to travel to space in September 1992. As a mission specialist aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavor, Jemison orbited Earth for nearly eight days.
Jemison’s path to NASA was a long and winding one. As a child, she was interested in science and dreamed about traveling to space. While she was frustrated that there were no female astronauts during the Apollo missions, she took inspiration from Star Trek’s Lieutenant Uhura, portrayed by Nichelle Nichols (who, in turn, NASA later employed in a campaign to encourage women and African-American’s to join the service).
After graduating from high school in 1973, Jemison entered Stanford University—just 16 years old at the time. There, she received a B.S. degree in chemical engineering and B.A. degrees in African and African-American studies. Even though her studies at Stanford also included her longstanding interest in space, she elected to attend medical school instead of applying to NASA.
While studying for her M.D. degree, she traveled the world to study and practice, spending time in Cuba, Thailand, and East Africa. Entering the Peace Corps, Jemison served in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Finally, after returning to the United States and settling in Los Angeles, she applied to NASA in 1985, just before her 30th birthday. In 1987, she was selected to be a part of NASA Astronaut Group 12 and finally realized her lifelong dream of traveling to space in 1992.
At Boone, we look to trailblazers like Mae Jemison as inspiration for what is possible with hard work and determination. Like Jemison, we know that the status quo is insufficient and we must continue to push boundaries and blaze new paths. We are on a mission to build a community of people whose advancements bravely contribute to the betterment of future generations, and in that mission, Mae Jemison is a true role model. She continues to impact society through her current work by leading the 100 Year Starship project through the United States Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
We salute her this month and are inspired by her daily.
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