Mae Jemison: First Black Woman in Space

March is Women’s History Month. Visit the National Archives website for resources related to women’s history. Today’s post comes from Dena Lombardo, an intern in the Public and Media Communications office.

When the space shuttle Endeavour blasted off on its second mission in 1992, it carried the first African American woman into space. But Mae Jemison is more than an astronaut—she’s also a physician, a Peace Corps volunteer, a teacher, an engineer, and founder of a technology company and a nonprofit. 

Mission Specialist Mae Jemison poses in Spacelab-Japan, 1992. (National Archives Identifier 22725970)

Jemison became the first African American woman to be admitted into NASA’s space training program in June 1987. Five years later, she again made history when she became the first African American woman in space aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour. In total, she completed over 190 hours in space. 

Another first was she was the first former NASA astronaut to appear on a Star Trek episode. She began her shifts in space saying, “Hailing frequencies open,” which is a reference to Lieutenant Uhura on the original Star Trek. When director LeVar Burton found out that Jemison was a huge fan, he offered her a role as “Lieutenant Palmer” in the episode “Second Chances” in Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Mission Specialist Mae Jemison stands at open locker near locker MF28H on middeck of orbiter Endeavour, 1992. (National Archives Identifier 22724340)

Her first and only mission, STS-47 Spacelab-J, was a cooperative mission between the United States and Japan. This mission included 44 experiments of life science and materials processing and was accomplished in 127 orbits of the Earth. 

On this flight, Jemison was the science mission specialist and a co-investigator on bone cell research that was flown on the mission. She returned on September 20, 1992, and following the flight, she noted that society should recognize how much both women and members of other minority groups can contribute, if given the opportunity:

“More women should demand to be involved. It’s our right. This is one area where we can get in on the ground floor and possibly help to direct where space exploration will go in the future.” 

Mission Specialists Mae Jemison and N. Jan Davis on orbiter middeck near galley, 1992. (National Archives Identifier 22725672)

Jemison retired from NASA in 1993 and established The Jemison Group, a consulting company that encourages science, technology, and social change. She also founded a youth development organization, the Dorothy Jemison Foundation for Excellence, named in honor of her mother.

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