Meet Mae Carol Jemison – The First Ever African American in Outer Space

“Never be limited by other people’s limited imaginations,” one of the famous saying from Mae Carol Jemison, the first ever African American in Outer Space. When the 50th space shuttle blasted off on its mission, it carried no other than the first African American woman into space. Jemison flew her space mission from September 12 to 20, 1992 as a Mission Specialist of STS-47. Though known in history as the first ever African American woman in space, Jemison was more than an astronaut; she’s also a physician, a teacher, founder and president of two technology companies and a Peace Corps volunteer. Let us look at this fantastic woman in space history.

Early Life

Mae Carol Jemison was born in Alabama on October 17, 1956. She is the youngest child of Charlie Jemison, a carpenter and roofer, and Dorothy Jemison, an elementary school teacher. She has two siblings namely Ada Jemison Bullock and Charles Jemison.


(Original Caption) Dr. Mae Jemison is among 15 new astronauts named by NASA and the first black female shuttle flyer; she is shown at work in her office in Los Angeles.

Jemison moved with her family to Chicago at the age of three and was introduced to the field of science at an early age by her uncle. She then developed interests throughout her childhood in astronomy, archeology, evolution, and anthropology. When she was in high school, she became interested in biomedical engineering, and after graduating from Morgan Park High School at the age of 16, she entered Stanford University. There she earned a BS in Chemical Engineering and African American Studies. After Stanford, she enrolled at Cornell Medical School and later on traveled to Kenya, Cuba, and Thailand. She provided medical care to people living in these countries while studying Doctor of Medicine at Cornell.

Peace Corps Doctor

Jemison graduated from medical school in 1981 and later on served in the Peace Corps in West Africa. There she supervised health care for Peace Corps and U.S Embassy personnel and worked with the National Institutes of Health and CDC (Center for Disease Control). She helped with various research projects at CDC, which includes the development of a vaccine for Hepatitis B.


Astronaut Mae C. Jemison attends ‘One Strange Rock’ World Premiere at Alice Tully Hall on March 14, 2018, in New York City. (Photo by John Lamparski/WireImage)

In the course of her Peace Corps career stint; she was questioned once due to her order of an Air Force hospital plane for a military medical evacuation that cost around $80,000. During this time, a volunteer became seriously ill, and Jemison diagnosed it as meningitis with life-threatening complications. She told the embassy that she did not need anyone’s authorization for a medical decision. It was reported that Jemison was on the plane with the patient for 56 hours by the time they got to Germany. The patient survived.

Jemison’s Accomplishments

Dr. Jemison is considered as one of the most impressive people you’ll ever encounter. From 1973 to 1977, Jemison received a National Achievement Scholarship award. She went to Stanford University at the age of 16 and earned a doctorate in medicine when she was just 25 years old. Apart from her doctorate, she also has two honorary doctorates (Honorary Doctorate of Sciences and Honorary Doctorate of Letters). In 1979, she received a CIBA Award for Student Involvement. She was also a recipient of Essence Award in 1988, honored as Gamma Sigma Gamma Woman of the year in 1990, received Ebony Black Achievement Award in 1992 and a Montgomery Fellowship from Dartmouth College in 1993.


KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – SEPTEMBER 12: Space Shuttle Endeavour crew members (L-R) Mamoru Mohri, Japan’s first astronaut to fly on the space shuttle, Mae Jemison, the first African American woman in space and Jan Davis and Mark Lee, the first married couple to fly together, walk out of the Operations and Checkout Building at the Kennedy Space Center, FL, 12 September 1992. Endeavour is set to launch on a seven-day mission later in the day. (Photo credit should read BRUCE WEAVER/AFP/Getty Images)

Mae Carol Jemison has a background in engineering and medical research as her work experience. She also worked in the field of computer programming, nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, reproductive biology, printed wiring board materials, and computer magnetic disc production. Furthermore, she also speaks four different languages, namely, Russian, Swahili, English and Japanese.

One of the most remarkable achievements Jemison had was in 1987 when she became one of the fifteen candidates selected out of more than 2,000 applicants for NASA’s astronaut program. She was just 31 years old at that time.

NASA Experience

After two and a half years at the Peace Corps, Dr. Jemison returned to the United States and worked as a general practitioner at CIGNA Health Plans in California. She also enrolled in graduate classes in engineering and decided to follow a dream she had when she was a child; she applied for admission to NASA’s astronaut program in 1985. The selection process was delayed due to the Space Shuttle “Challenger” disaster of January 1986, but Jemison reapplied and was selected as one of the fifteen candidates chosen from 2,000 applicants.


The crew of the space shuttle Endeavour poses for a photo in the Spacelab module in the shuttle’s cargo bay. Jan Davis’s long hair floats upward in the low gravity. | Location: in the Spacelab module aboard Endeavour, Earth orbit. (Photo by © Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images)

She then completed her astronaut training as a mission specialist at NASA in 1988 and became the fifth black astronaut and the first ever-black female astronaut in the history of NASA. She worked at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, as an astronaut office representative and was assigned to verify space shuttle software and process launching of space shuttles. She then worked for the cooperative mission between Japan and the United States, which focused on conducting experiments in life sciences and materials processing.

The STS-47 Mission

In September 1992, STS-47 Spacelab J became the first successful cooperative US-Japan space mission, wherein Dr. Jemison was part of and worked as a mission specialist.

The STS-47 was known as the second mission of Space Shuttle Endeavor and the 50th space shuttle mission, which mainly focused on conducting experiments in material and life sciences.


(L-R) Scientist and investor Yuri Milner, Theoretical physicist and Mathematician Freeman Dyson, Dr. Mae Jemison, Dr. Pete Worden and Theoretical Physicist Avi Loeb hold up a prototype of the ‘Star Chip’, a small robotic spacecraft that will enable interstellar space travel as they pose with Professor Stephen Hawking at the New Space Exploration Initiative ‘Breakthrough Starshot’ Announcement at One World Observatory on April 12, 2016, in New York City. (Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images)

The STS-47 consists of the first Japanese astronaut, the first African-American woman and the first married couple to fly aboard the shuttle. Contrary to normal NASA policy (a married couple is not allowed together to fly aboard to avoid disrupting in-flight morale), the STS-47 included a married couple. Lee and Davis (husband and wife) secretly got married a few weeks before the official launch of the STS-47, and NASA was forced to waive their policy because reassigning new crews or canceling the mission were not possible at short notice at that time.

The STS-47 mission lasted from September 12 to 20, 1992 and it’s the only space mission of Jemison as a mission specialist. During the mission, she was a co-investigator of two bone cell experiments. She also conducted experiments on motion sickness and weightlessness on her crew members and herself. Jemison went around the earth 127 times during her eight-day mission in outer space. In completing her first ever space flight, Jemison logged 190 hours, 30 minutes and 23 seconds in space.

Life after NASA

Dr. Mae Carol Jemison left NASA in 1993 and became a professor of Environmental Studies at Dartmouth College from 1995 to 2002. Currently, she is a Professor-at-Large at Cornell University and is a strong advocate of science education in schools, particularly encouraging minority students to have interests in science. She has been a member of many scientific organizations and founded the Jemison Group to study technology for daily life. Jemison is also involved in the 100 Years Starship Project and known to have created the BioSentient Corp, a company that focused on research and development of portable technology in monitoring the nervous system to help treat a variety of diseases.


UNITED STATES – NOVEMBER 08: Rep. Judy Biggert, R-Ill., left, talks with Dr. Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman in space, and Kathryn Sullivan, Ph.D., first American woman to perform a spacewalk, before the astronauts spoke at a Congressional Research and Development Caucus briefing. (Photo By Tom Williams/Roll Call/Getty Images)

Jemison from time to time made public and media appearances that were related to science and technology. She also wrote two books (Find Where the Wind Goes, 2001 and True Book Series, 2013).