African Americans in the Space Program
Space suit technician Sharon McDougle reading Jemison in preparation for liftoff. Courtesy of NASA.
As long as African American men had to wait for space flight, African American women had to wait even longer. Born in Alabama in 1956, Mae Jemison moved to Chicago with her family when she was three years old, where she excelled in school but was harassed by street gangs. As an escape, she lost herself in fantasy, receiving inspiration from positive but imaginary black female role models, including Lieutenant Uhura in the Star Trek television series. She went on to Stanford University and the Weill Cornell Medical School, and later received a grant to travel to Cuba, Kenya, and Thailand to provide medical care. After serving in the Peace Corps, she applied to the NASA training program, becoming one of fifteen candidates selected for acceptance out of 2,000. Jemison became a member of NASA's first entering class after the Challenger disaster and traveled aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour in September 1992. She resigned from NASA after only six years, going on to found businesses and philanthropic organizations, including The Earth We Share, an environmental camp for teenagers. In 1993, Jemison played Lieutenant Palmer in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, a successor to the show that inspired her as a child.