Mae Jemison was born in Decatur, Alabama on October 17, 1956. She was the youngest of three children. The Jemison family moved to Chicago when Mae was only three. It was in Chicago that an uncle introduced her to the world of science. At a very early age, Mae developed interests in anthropology, archaeology, and astronomy that she pursued throughout her childhood. Mae Jemison enrolled at Stanford University at the age of 16 and in 1977 graduated with degrees in both chemical engineering and Afro-American studies.
She received a Doctor of Medicine degree from Cornell University in 1981. Dr. Jemison has practiced medicine as a volunteer in a Cambodian refugee camp and as a medical officer with the Peace Corps in West Africa. She was working as a general practitioner in Los Angeles, California when NASA selected her and 14 others for astronaut training. Dr. Jemison completed her training as a mission specialist with NASA in 1988.
In September of 1992, as a mission specialist aboard the Shuttle Endeavour, Mae Jemison became the first African-American woman to enter space. In 1993, Dr. Jemison resigned from NASA and founded the Jemison Group, Inc. Among her current projects are several that focus on improving healthcare in Africa and advancing technology in developing countries.
Jemison says she was inspired by Martin Luther King Jr.; to her King’s dream was not an elusive fantasy but a call to action. “Too often people paint him like Santa — smiley and inoffensive,” says Jemison. “But when I think of Martin Luther King, I think of attitude, audacity, and bravery.” Jemison thinks the civil rights movement was all about breaking down the barriers to human potential.