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Mae Jemison

It’s safe to say that growing up, a lot of kids wanted to become an astronaut. The idea of flying off into space and walking on the moon seemed so attainable as children. Maybe that was due to their natural naiveté of how complex going into space is.

In the case of Mae Jemison, a Black woman born into the Jim Crow era, the odds did not seem to be in her favor. Yet, she found a way to make her child-hood dream come true. This is her story.

Mae Jemison was born in Decatur, Alabama on October 17, 1956. At the age of three, Jemison moved to Chicago, which she claims is her true hometown. Jemison developed a unique interest in anthropology, archeology, evolution, and astronomy throughout her childhood. At 16, she entered Stanford University, receiving degrees in chemical engineering and African American studies. In 1977 Jemison attended Cornell University, where she pursued an interest in international medicine, volunteering in Thailand and Kenya. After graduating from medical school, Jemison became a medical officer in the Peace Corps and was involved in many research projects, including developing a hepatitis B vaccine.

After her stint in medicine, Jemison returned to the United States to follow a childhood dream that she never forgot about, becoming an astronaut. In 1986, she achieved that dream by applying to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and being 1 of 15 accepted out of an applicant pool of 2,000. Two years later, she completed her training with NASA as a mission specialist and became an astronaut office representative with the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida. This role required her to process space shuttles for launching and verify all shuttle software. In 1992 Jamison got her shot to travel to space on a week-long mission on the shuttle Endeavour, where she focused on conducting experiments on the weightlessness and motion sickness on the crew. At the time, she was the only African-American woman astronaut.

Far too often, the everyday grind of life detracts us from achieving many of the goals we set for ourselves. Mae Jemison is a perfect example of someone who never forgot about her dreams and, by achieving them, paved the way for so many people to follow in her footsteps.

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