Mae C. Jemison

Early Life:

It was the 1950's and the problem of discrimination was exhibited by many American citizens. Americans were separated because of their race but many people were fighting for equal rights. Mae C. Jemison was born on October 17th, 1956 in Decatur, Alabama. This was when the Civil Rights Movement was growing in intensity. Because of civil rights demonstrations that took place in Alabama, her family moved to Chicago when she was three. In 1954 the Board of Education of Topeka won a hearing that made segregation in public schools illegal. All her parents wanted was for their daughter to be successful.
Two years after her birth, NASA was founded thus expanding opportunity for exploration and sparking dreams in children across America. But with discrimination still looming, opportunity for many seemed dismal. Little did she or anyone else know that she would indeed grow up to become one of the leading astronauts in history despite the many challenges ahead of her in addition to becoming an inspiration to millions of people to strive toward their goals.
When she was in kindergarten, Mae saw an episode of Star Trek and fell in love with a character that happened to be an African American woman. Her and many other girls of her time were given hope by that character. Sometime later when her teacher asked her what she wanted to do as an adult, she said she wanted to become an astronaut. This was unlikely at the time because NASA was only recruiting white males and she was an African American girl.


However, this didn't puncture her dreams and she continued to strive to be an astronaut. A friend of hers once said, "Even though she is very strong willed and determined, people say her disposition makes her more approachable rather than intimidating." Things were looking hopeful when a law was passed outlawing racial discrimination in education, voter's rights, and public services. Many other people gave her the strength to stick to her dreams: Sally Ride-for example. Sally Ride became the first woman in outer space. It was in this time that a law was passed that prohibited discrimination against gender, which meant that women could be whatever they wanted.
While in high school, Mae was known for her sense of humor, incredible dancing skills, and love for science. Her friends have said that she was locally famous for her skills at dance. After she graduated from high school, her career dreams were coming closer to being a reality. She attended Stanford University in 1977 and Correl Medical College in 1981 and majored in chemical engineering and surgical medicine. In school she studied both physical and social sciences. She learned to speak four languages fluently: English, Russian, Japanese, and Swahili. Her many skills were proving her to be the talented woman she became famous for.


After she left college she began to work for the Peace Corps. She traversed to Labia and Sierra Leon where she was the chief surgeon. After 2½ years in the Peace Corps she began to professionally practice medicine. In the United States, NASA was then accepting all applications. In 1977 for example, NASA accepted 8,000 potential applications that included men and women of all races. On June 28, 1986 the space ship Challenger had exploded in an attempt to leave the earth's atmosphere. Nonetheless, Mae applied to become an astronaut. NASA accepted her in 1987 to participate in their space-training program. This in itself was a huge leap toward her goal.
She underwent months of training along side other candidates in the program. Finally, she was selected to be a member of the crew aboard the spaceship Endeavor. She was to be the mission specialist, which meant that she would be in charge of knowing whether or not the equipment was operating correctly. When she was boarding the ship that would take her into space in 1992, she could barely conceal her excitement. She had succeeded in reaching space but had also made history.

Later Life:

One year after she went into space she retired from NASA. She continued to strive toward the growth of America. She wanted children to have the opportunities she had and after years of fund-raising, she had managed to open a space and science camp in Chicago, Illinois. She continues to give speeches at schools and loves to talk about her experience. She has told many reporters things about her feelings. "I felt like I belonged right there in space," she remembers, "I realized I would feel comfortable anywhere in the universe--because I belonged to and was part of it, as much as any star, planet, asteroid, comet, or nebula." (Super Science Magazine 2001)
She has inspired many children to reach for the stars and captivated the hearts of millions with her charity. Despite the hardships she faced in her life she never gave up and stayed dedicated. She cared enough to continue her life by serving as an example that great things can be achieved if you follow your dreams and stick with your goals.