Black History Month: Dr. Mae Jemison

Bill Hancock
Runnels County Register

In celebration of Black History Month, the Runnels County Register will print articles each week on Black people, their accomplishments and contributions to the arts, sciences and humanities.

Dr. Mae Jemison has accrued many titles over her life, including medical doctor, dance choreographer, actor, and astronaut. She has received 18 awards, had 6 institutions named for her and received 10 honorary doctorates. She has also written, or co-written numerous publications. Her accomplishments throughout her life would fill a library.

Dr. Mae Carol Jemison was born on October 17, 1956. She is an American engineer, physician and former astronaut. Jemison became the first Black woman to travel in space when she launched aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavor on September 12, 1992.

Dr. Mae Jemison was the first Black woman to fly in space when she lifted off aboard Space Shuttle Endeavor on September 12, 1992.

Dr. Jemison was born in Decatur, Alabama to Charlie and Dorothy Jemison. Her father was a maintenance supervisor for a charity organization while her mother taught English and Math at the Ludwig van Beethoven Elementary School in Chicago.

In 1973, Dr. Jemison graduated from Morgan Park High School. Only 16 years old when she graduated, Dr. Jemison immediately enrolled in Stanford University. There were very few other African-American students in Dr. Jemison's classes. She said that she continued to experience discrimination from her teachers.

While at Stanford, Dr. Jemison served as head of the Black Students Union. She also choreographed the musical and dance production of Out of the Shadows. She graduated in 1977 with a B.S. degree in chemical engineering and a B.A. degree in African and African-American studies. While at Stanford, Dr. Jemison continued to study dance, enrolling in classes at the Alvin Alley American Dance Theater. She also pursued studies related to space and considered applying to NASA.

After graduating from Stanford Dr. Jemison attended Cornell Medical School. During medical school she traveled extensively. She traveled to Cuba to conduct a study funded by the American Medical Student Association. She then traveled to Thailand, where she worked at a Cambodian refugee camp. Afterwards, she worked for Flying Doctors in East Africa.  In 1981, Dr. Jemison graduated with her M.D. degree, then interned at the Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center.

Dr. Jemison joined the staff of the Peace Corps in 1983, serving as a medical officer until 1985. While with the Peace Corps, Dr. Jemison supervised the pharmacy, laboratory, medical staff, all while providing medical care, writing self-care manuals, and developing and implementing guidelines for health and safety issues. She also worked for the Centers for Disease Control, helping with research for various vaccines.

Once she returned to the United States, Dr. Jemison settled in Los Angeles, California. After settling in, she entered into private medical practice and enrolled in graduate level engineering courses. Dr. Jemison was inspired by astronauts Sally Ride and Guion Bluford. She applied for NASA's astronaut training program in 1985. Selection of astronauts was postponed until 1987 due to the Challenger disaster. Dr. Jemison reapplied to the astronaut program in 1987.

Ultimately, 15 astronaut candidates were chosen our of over 2,000 applicants, becoming NASA Astronaut Group 12, the first group of astronauts selected after the Challenger disaster. Prior to her own trip into space, Dr. Jemison worked in support activities, including verification of Shuttle computer software in the Shuttle Avionics Laboratory (SAIL). On September 28, 1989, Dr. Jemison was selected to be a Science Mission Specialist aboard STS-47 on the Space Shuttle Endeavor.The Science Mission Specialist was a new astronaut role being tested by NASA to focus on scientific experiments. 

Dr. Jemison and the crew of Space Shuttle Endeavor lifted off on September 12, 1992.The launch marked a cooperative mission between the United States and Japan. It was also the 50th shuttle mission. In all, Dr. Jemison logged 190 hours, 30 minutes and 23 seconds in space, orbiting the earth 127 times. The crew was split into two shifts, with Dr. Jemison assigned to the Blue Shift. Throughout the mission she opened communications with the salute, "Hailing frequencies open," a quote from Star Trek.

Dr. Jemison in space aboard the Japan Module of the Spacelab in 1992. Jemison was a mission specialist who carried out several experiments over the course of the 8-day mission.

The mission included 43 Japanese and United States life science and materials processing experiments. Dr. Jemison and Japanese astronaut Mamoru Mohri used the Autogenic Feedback Training Exercise (AFTE). It used biofeedback and autogenic training to help patients monitor and control their physiology as a possible treatment for motion sickness, anxiety and stress-related disorders. She also tested NASA's Fluid Therapy System which included procedures and equipment to produce water for injection, which used water from a previous step to produce saline solution in space. She was a co-investigator of two bone cell research experiments. She also participate in an experiment to induce female frogs to ovulate, fertilize the eggs and then see how tadpoles developed in zero gravity.

In March of 1993, Dr. Jemison resigned from NASA. In 1993, she founded The Jemison Group, Inc., a consulting firm which considers the sociocultural impact of technological advancements on design. She also founded the Dorothy Jemison Foundation for Excellence, naming the foundation in honor of her mother. One of the foundation's projects is Earth We Share, a science camp for students aged 12-16. The camps are held across the nation, as well as in South Africa, Tunisia and Switzerland.

Azeri (Azerbaijani) postage stamp honoring Dr. Mae Jemison, who was the first Black woman to fly in space.

In 1995, Republic of Azerbaijan issued a postage stamp honoring Dr. Jemison.

The above article was compiled with information from Wikipedia, NASA as well as several various publications.