OPINION — Jemison helped pave a way to the stars

Published 6:22 pm Thursday, May 27, 2021

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Space, the final frontier. These words were never more true than for Mae Jemison.

I’m amazed at the boundless energy this woman has. Her versatility in multiple disciplines makes her a powerhouse and she hasn’t stopped yet. On October 17, 1956, Mae Carol Jemison was born in Decatur, Alabama to a mother who was an elementary school teacher and a father who worked as a maintenance supervisor. Jemison is the youngest of three children.

When she was 3 the family moved to Chicago. As a child, Jemison had a deep passion for science and space which her parents encouraged. Spending lots of time in the library, she read books about space and evolution. She watched the Apollo launches on TV but wondered why there were no female astronauts. She was inspired by seeing actress Nichelle Nichols playing Lieutenant Uhura, the first African American female in space exploration on the Star Trek series. From that moment, Jemison was determined to journey into space.

Subsequently, Jemison graduated at age 16 from Morgan Park High School in 1973. She enrolled in Stanford University on a scholarship and as the only African American in her class. Jemison experienced her share of racial discrimination. While at Stanford, Jemison partook in dance, theater and volunteer work, and in addition, was president of the Black Student Union. In 1977 Mae graduated receiving her Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering and a Bachelor of Arts degree in African and African American studies.

Next, Jemison enrolled in Cornell University’s medical school traveling extensively to foreign countries such as Cuba and in 1981 earned her doctorate in medicine. Consequently, after interning at the Los Angeles County Medical Center, Mae joined the Peace Corps in 1983 serving as a medical officer in Africa until 1985. She used her fluency in Russian, Japanese and Swahili in her work.

Upon returning to the U.S,. Dr. Jemison opened a private practice in Los Angeles and in 1985 decided to apply to the astronaut program at NASA after Sally Ride became the first American woman in space in 1983. NASA halted accepting new people into the program after the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger on January 28, 1986. Despite this setback Jemison was selected for NASA Astronaut Group 12 and the training consisted of intense physicality and rigorous science classes. If anyone could handle this, Jemison could.

She worked on projects at Kennedy Space Center in Florida and the Shuttle Avionics Integration Laboratory where she received her first assignment as mission specialist on the STS-47 crew Sept, 28, 1989. On Sept. 12, 1992, Jemison became the first African American female astronaut and the first African American woman to journey to space. She and three others traveled on the space shuttle Endeavor and made 127 orbits around the Earth returning to the Kennedy Space Center Sept. 20, 1992. On the joint mission with Japan, Mae’s job was fertilizing frog eggs and observing their development into tadpoles.

If I could ask Jemison anything it would be did she ever believe her dream to voyage into space would happen? After six years with NASA, Jemison left and in 1993 founded the Jemison Group, a consulting company that integrates science, technology and social change delivering health care and solar engine electricity to developing countries via satellite technology. Moreover, in 1994 Mae created The Earth We Share (TEWS), an international space educational program for students 12 to 16 years old.

I would ask Jemison if she ever envisioned STEM and STEAM programs taking off like they have. Also, in the same year, Jemison guest starred on Star Trek: The Next Generation as Lieutenant Palmer. Moreover, she wrote “Find Where The Wind Goes,” a children’s book about her life.

At age 64, Jemison is still going strong leading the 100 Year Starshlp Project Agency (DARPA) which works to ensure that human space travel to another star within the next 100 years will be possible. This is one of her many endeavors.

This versatile lady is a member of the Texas Science Hall of Fame and the National Women’s Hall of Fame. In addition, the Mae C. Jemison School is named in her honor. She currently lives in Houston.

Jemison is a woman who has journeyed to that final frontier and is paving the way for others to embark on this voyage and beyond.

Judy Moore is a history museum tour guide and can be reached at v5agabond1@outlook.com. She lives in Wylliesburg.