Dr. Mae Jemison: Astronaut, Businesswoman, & Dreamer of Big Dreams

“I didn’t even think about whether I’d be the first African-American woman in space… I just wanted to go into space,” Dr. Mae Jemison

Dr. Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman in space, is one of those rare individuals who excels at everything she does. Jemison was born in Decatur, Ala., in 1956. She was raised on the southside of Chicago. Her father, Charlie, was a maintenance worker, and her mother, Dorothy, was a schoolteacher.

The youngest of three children, it was obvious from an early age that Jemison had a huge appetite for learning. She entered Stanford University in 1973 on a scholarship at the ripe old age of 16. She earned a bachelor of science degree in chemical engineering in 1977, while also fulfilling the requirements for a bachelor’s degree in African-American studies.

Jemison graduated from Cornell University medical school in 1981. After medical school, Jemison spent two and a half years as a Peace Corps medical officer in Sierra Leone and Liberia in West Africa. When she returned to the states in 1985, she went to work as a general practitioner in Los Angeles. She also took graduate classes in engineering in hopes of fulfilling her lifelong dream of traveling in space.

In 1987, after her first application was rejected, Jemison became one of 15 astronaut candidates chosen by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration out of 2,000 applicants.

Jemison finished her training as a NASA mission specialist in 1988. She became the first woman of color in space in 1992, when she blasted into orbit aboard the space shuttle Endeavor.

Her inspiration for going to NASA was Lt. Commander Uhura on the original Star Trek series. Jemison made a cameo appearance on its spin-off Star Trek: the Next Generation on episode “Second Chances” in 1993 as Lt. Palmer.

Jemison was a Science Mission Specialist, a first for NASA. While on the STS-47 space lab, she conducted experiments in life and material sciences and was involved in bone cell research. Even though she had no role models in NASA, Jemison said even as a child she was convinced she would travel in space.


But Jemison’s story didn’t stop at being an astronaut. She reinvented herself into a successful businesswoman.

In March 1993, Jemison resigned from NASA. But soon after leaving the space program, she formed The Jemison Group Inc., which focuses on the beneficial integration of science and technology into everyday life.

Among the organization’s projects are Alpha, a satellite-based telecommunications system to improve health care in West Africa, and The Earth We Share, an international science camp for students ages 12 to 16.

Jemison built the BioSentient Corporation. It is a medical technology company that develops and markets mobile equipment worn to monitor body’s vital signs and train people to respond favorably in stressful situations. The company was founded in 1999 and is based in Houston, Texas. The company also trains people to respond favorably in stressful situations. The Jemison Group holds the commercial license from NASA to commercialize this new technology.