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Dr. Mae Jemison in 1992

Dr. Mae Jemison in 1992

Dr. Mae Jemison was the first African-American woman to orbit the Earth in space. She was raised in Chicago and graduated from Morgan Park High School in 1973 and was admitted to Stanford University at only the age of 16. She earned a B.S. degree in chemical engineering from Stanford as well as a B.A. in African-American studies in 1977. She also earned a doctor of medicine degree from the Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City in 1981 and went on to serve in the Peace Corps in both Liberia and Sierra Leone all before she applied to join the NASA atronaut program in 1987. She said she had two inspirations for making the application. One of Dr. Sally Ride who was the first American woman shuttle astronaut and the other was actress Nichelle Nichols who was also from Cook County and who played the role of communications officer Lt. Uhura on the original Star Trek TV series of the 1960s and well as the same role in several Star Trek movies. Both Nichols and Jemison were inspired by Chicago's Bessie Coleman who was an aviation pioneer and first African-American woman internationally licenced pilot in the 1920s. Dr. Jemison was trained at NASA by Homer Kickam who was the author of Rocket Boys that became the movie October Sky. She often said her goal was not to be the first African American woman in space. "If 2,000 others had gone before me, I would have still had my hand up." When Dr. Jemison went into orbit as a mission specialist on Spacelab/STS 47 from Sept. 12-20, 1992, she carried a photo of Bessie Coleman on the mission with her. Readers of this site can find more information about Bessie Coleman in our Illinois Hall of Fame series. Dr. Jemison left NASA in 1993 to form her own technology research company.

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