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  • Sara Thompson

Mae C. Jemison: An Inspiration for All

By Sara Thompson

Special to the Enterprise

Astronaut Mae Jamison floating in a lab in space
Astronaut Mae Jamison working in Spacelab-J module on board Space Shuttle Endeavor (STS-47)

Mae Carol Jemison was born October 17, 1956 in Decatur, Alabama. When she was a few years old her family moved to Chicago, Illinois, where she spent the rest of her childhood. Growing up she knew she wanted to be a scientist and was determined to not let anything stand in her way.

Jemison graduated from high school at the age of 16 and began studying at Stanford University. Being 1973, she was the only African American student in her classes and experienced almost constant racial and sexist discrimination from her teachers and peers. She has said in interviews that her stubbornness and youthful arrogance are what helped her push through all the roadblocks and continue towards her goals. She graduated from Stanford in 1977 with degrees in both chemical engineering and in African and African-American studies. Wanting to continue to do good and help others, Jemison enrolled at Cornell Medical School. During her medical training she traveled throughout the world including Cuba, Thailand, Cambodia, East Africa, and more. She learned how to help those in need at refugee camps and impoverished communities. She graduated with her M.D. in 1981, and by 1983 had joined the staff at the Peace Corps, overseeing the health of the volunteers and medical staff, supervising the pharmacy and laboratory, writing manuals, and developing health and safety guidelines. She also assisted with the research for a number of vaccines with the Centers for Disease Control.

Growing up, Jemison enjoyed science fiction, particularly Star Trek, and had dreamed of going to the stars. In 1985 she applied to the astronaut program, but NASA postponed candidate selection due to the Challenger disaster. She reapplied in 1987 and was one of 15 selected for the program out of over 2000 applicants. For the next several years she trained to be an astronaut and was selected to join the STS-47 crew as the new role of Science Mission Specialist, whose job was to focus on scientific experiments. Jemison’s mission on the STS-47 was from September 12-20, 1992, during which she orbited the earth 127 times. During the mission Jemison collaborated with Japanese astronaut, Mamoru Mohri, on physiology treatments for motion sickness and anxiety. She also participated in experiments researching bone cells and how tadpoles developed in zero gravity. She also tested a water injection system and production of saline solutions in space.

Although her mission was only eight days in length, it was pioneering moment as Mae Jemison was the first African-American woman in space. She continued to work for NASA, doing research on the ground until her resignation in 1993. Today she works advocating for diversity in science by being a speaker, writing books, starting a foundation that helps implement science literacy in schools, and supports many science causes including the 100 Year Starship project.

Join Explorit in celebrating Women in STEM on Saturday, February 26 from 12:00-2:00pm. The Girls in STEM event will feature tabletop demos from UC Davis groups, Girl Scouts Mobile STEM trailer, and more! All are welcome and is included with regular weekend admission.


Explorit's coming events:

· Spring into Science Camp for grades K-2. March 21-25 from 9:00am-12:00pm each day. Jump into an exciting science topic each day with Explorit. From the far reaches of space to the geology beneath your feet; make crafts, do hands-on experiments and enjoy demonstrations led by our staff educators. Camp will take place indoors, masks required, daily temperature checks and health survey, and campers must bring their own water bottle and snack. Price is $175 Members/$200 for Non-Members, sign-up quick as space is limited:

· Explorit has partnered with UCD Art Fusion class to create a ceramic mosaic mural for the new Explorit Pollinator Garden, and on March 5, you are invited to take part! Create clay bees, flowers, and butterflies, while learning about the importance of these pollinators to the ecosystem. Cost is $15 per person, which includes the 90-minute art class, along with admission into the museum from 2pm - 4pm. Register at

· A Membership to Explorit not only supports us but grants the recipient free visits to Explorit’s regular public hours, discounts on events, camps and workshops, and gives you ASTC benefits to visit other museums throughout the world. To purchase or for more information visit or call Explorit at 530-756-0191.


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