NASA astronaut Mae Jemison flew on space shuttle Endeavour in September 1992, becoming the first black woman to travel to space.Credit: NASA
Born in Decatur, Ala., on Oct. 17, 1956, Mae Carol Jemison moved to Chicago, Ill., at the age of 3 and considers the city her hometown. The youngest of three children born to a maintenance worker and an elementary schoolteacher, she had a fascination with all things science from an early age. Once, after receiving an infection, she performed an extended experiment on pus. Jemison's parents supported her desire to be a scientist.
"My parents were the best scientists I knew, because they were always asking questions, " Jemison said in a 2005 press release.
Jemison did well in high school, and attended Stanford University on scholarship at the age of 16. There, she attained her Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering and a Bachelor of Arts in African and African-American studies. She went on to earn her doctorate in medicine from Cornell University in 1981. [Women in Space: A Gallery of Firsts]
After working as a general practitioner, Jemison served two and a half years as a volunteer in the Peace Corps, spending time in the African countries of Sierra Leone and Liberia. In addition to English, she speaks Russian, Japanese, and Swahili.
Reaching the stars
Although employed as a general practitioner again following her return to the United States, Jemison decided to pursue a childhood dream. After the historic flight of Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, Jemison applied to NASA's astronaut program, feeling that more opportunities had opened up. The explosion of the Challenger shuttle put a hold on applicants, but in 1987, she became one of the fifteen candidates selected out of more than 2, 000 people. After a year of training, she became the first female African American astronaut. [Infographic: NASA's Space Shuttle – From Top to Bottom]
STS-47 patch.Credit: NASA