As a young girl growing up in Chicago, Mae Jemison loved to watch the original Star Trek TV series (1966-1969). Mae says that her role model was actress Nichelle Nichols who grew up in Robbins, Illinois in south Cook County. Nichelle played the role of the communications officer on the Star Ship Enterprise, Lt. Uhura. Nichelle started her career as a singer for the Duke Ellington Orchestra before she auditioned for Star Trek. Robbins was also the hometown of Janet Harmon Bragg, an aviation columnist for The Chicago Defender, who was the first African-American woman to earn a commercial pilot's license in 1943 to fly passengers and cargo. And Janet's role model was aviation pioneer Bessie Coleman of Chicago who was the first African-American woman to earn an international pilot's license for a single-engine plane in 1921.
With these outstanding Illinois role models to guide her, Mae Jemison stood on their shoulders and dedicated herself to becoming a top student when she graduated from Chicago's Morgan Park High School in 1973 at the age of only 16. With the help of a scholarship, Mae earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemical Engineering from Stanford University and graduated from Cornell University Medical College in New York with a doctorate in medicine. Dr. Mae Jemison spent thirty months during 1983 to 1985 as a medical officer with the Peace Corps in Sierra Leonne and Liberia. She joined NASA in 1987 as an astronaut candidate.
On Sept. 12, 1992 Dr. Jemison fulfilled her dream that was first inspired by the fictional "Lt. Uhura" on Star Trek many years before when she was a child. Mae became the first African-American woman in real life to orbit the Earth in space. She was a medical research mission specialist on the Space Shuttle Endeavor. Dr. Jemison was also a mission specialist on board the STS-47 Spacelab J fligtht, a joint-US/Japan mission. Since leaving NASA in 1993, Dr. Jemison has founded two different medical technology companies and currently makes her home not far from the Johnson Space Center in Houston.