Dr. Mae C. Jemison made history on this day in 1992 by becoming the first woman of color to travel to space. Dr. Jemison took her lone flight to the stars aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour before moving on to a stellar career in education.
Mae Carol Jemison was born October 17, 1956 in Decatur, Ala. but considers Chicago home. Jemison at first wanted to be a dancer and actress, all the while excelling in academics. She graduated from Chicago’s Morgan Park High School in 1973 at the age of 16 and entered Stanford University.
Jemison says that her time at Stanford included struggles with her race, gender, and age. Although she excelled at the elite institution, Jemison said she had to battle with professors. After leaving the school in 1977, Jemison earned her Doctor of Medicine degree in 1981 from Cornell Medical College in New York. While at Cornell, Jemison trained in dance at the famed Alvin Ailey school.
After serving in the Peace Corps and working as a general practitioner around the globe, Jemison felt the pull to travel to space. The Space Shuttle program began to select civilians in the early ’80’s after Sally Ride became the first woman astronaut. Inspired by Star Trek actress Nichelle “Lt. Uhuru” Nichols, Jemison was selected in 1987 to join the program.
The Endeavour flight was largely scientific with Jemison conducting a series of medical experiments during her eight-day orbit. Like a true Trekkie, Jemison reportedly opened all of her communication with NASA by saying “Hailing frequencies open” although it went against protocol, according to accounts.
Jemison stepped down from NASA in 1993 to focus on social sciences and technology.
From 1995 to 2002, she was a professor of Environmental Studies at Dartmouth College. In 2012, Jemison’s Dorothy Jemison Foundation for Excellence won a bid for the 100 Year Starship project, a joint U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) grant project. The project funds future endeavors in interstellar travel.
Today, Jemison is a professor-at-large at Cornell University.