Mae C. Jemison was born on October 17, 1956 in Decatur, Alabama to Charlie and Dorothy Jemison. At the age of three, the family moved to Chicago, Illinois to further their educational opportunities. Her parents stressed the importance of education and when she was four, her uncle sparked her interest in archaeology and anthropology. She spent much of her time in libraries reading about all she could get her hands on. Mae graduated high school with honors and entered Stanford University (California) with an interest in the biomedical engineering profession. She graduated in 1977 with a degree in chemical engineering and later a second bachelor’s degree in African American studies.
Jemison then attended Cornell University’s medical school (New York) in 1977 and graduated in 1981. During her time at Cornell, she volunteered in a Thai refugee camp and took part in health studies in Kenya. From 1983 to 1985 she was the area Peace Corps medical officer for Sierra Leone and Liberia in West Africa. She also took part in various research projects for the vaccines for hepatitis B and rabies.
Early on, Jemison decided she wanted to be an astronaut and in 1987 she joined the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) program and completed a one year training program in 1988. Prior to her first flight in space, she worked at the Kennedy Space Center as a mission specialist. In September of 1992, Mae Jemison became the first African American woman in space during her flight on the STS-47, Spacelab-J. During this flight, she logged 190 hours, 30 minutes and 23 seconds in space. She resigned from NASA in 1993.
In 1994, she founded and ran The Earth We Share, a space camp for students aged 12-16. From 1995-2002 she taught environmental studies at Dartmouth College. Mae Jemison is currently the director of the Jemison Institute for Advancing Technology in developing countries.