Women Who Inspire Us: Mae Jamison

Mae Jemison is a scientist most famously known as the first African American woman to travel in space. In addition to this amazing feat, she is also a physician, engineer, professor and author. Her incredible life story has inspired many to pursue science and space exploration.

Mae Jameson and another astronaut work aboard a shuttle.

Early life

Jemison was born in Decatur, Alabama in 1956. Her family moved to Chicago, Illinois, where she spent the rest of her childhood. As a young girl, she always knew she loved science and was determined to travel in space. Her other love was dancing.

Becoming a doctor

After graduating high school, Jemison attended Stanford University in California. While there, she served as president of the Black Student Union. She graduated in 1977 with a Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering and a Bachelor of Arts in African and African-American Studies. She then attended Cornell Medical School, where she earned her medical degree. While there, she went overseas to Thailand to work in a Cambodian refugee camp and led a study in Cuba. After graduating, she served as a medical officer in the Peace Corp for two years in Africa.

To the stars and beyond

Mae Jameson sits in her astronaut suit for her official NASA photo.

Although a dedicated doctor, Jemison never let go of her dream to become an astronaut. In 1983, She applied to the NASA astronaut program. She applied again in 1985 and a third time in 1987. On her third attempt, she was one of 15 people selected. She worked NASA for several years on various projects. In 1992, she made 127 orbits around the Earth with six other astronauts on the space shuttle Endeavor. While on the mission, she studied how weightlessness affected the shuttle crew and conducted research on bone cells.

Jemison left NASA after six years as an astronaut. But, her story had just begun! She went on to teach environmental studies at Dartmouth College, create a space camp for students, start a nonprofit organization, write a book and star as the first real astronaut in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. In 2017, Jameson was one of the featured astronauts in the Women of NASA LEGO set. Today, more than 60 women have been into space, and they can thank Jamison for paving the way.

Read more stories from our Women Who Inspire Us series.