On this day in history, September 12, 1992, Mae Jemison was chosen to become the first African American woman to travel in space when she went into orbit aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavor. Early in her career, Jemison had received a double-major in Chemical Engineering and African-American studies.

Jemison was selected from a pool of 2,000 applicants and became the first black woman selected to be an astronaut by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). She then went on the publish a book for kids and founded her own company, the Jemison Group.

As a young girl she was always interested in science, especially astronomy, and was encouraged by her parents and teachers to pursue not only her science studies, but also dance and art. She earned a double degree at Stanford University—in chemical engineering and Afro-American studies—and then studied medicine at Cornell University. While at Cornell she traveled to Thailand and Kenya to provide primary medical care services. After completing her medical internship Jemison joined the Peace Corps and worked as a staff physician in West Africa.

Jemison was working as a general practitioner in Los Angeles when she first applied to the space program, in October of 1985—three months before the space shuttle Challenger accident that killed seven astronauts. NASA postponed the application process, but Jemison still aspired to become an astronaut and re-applied in 1986. “I didn’t think about [the Challenger] in terms of keeping me involved… it was very sad because of the astronauts who were lost, but not in any way keeping me from being interested in it or changing my views about things.” Jemison was one of 15 candidates selected from a field of nearly 2,000. In addition to her assignment as mission specialist, she worked as a liaison between the Johnson Space Center in Houston and NASA crew members in Cape Canaveral, Florida.


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