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  • Alyaa Elkhafif

A Pioneer in Space

In 1992, Mae C. Jemison, flying aboard the Endeavor, became the first African American woman to travel to space (1). Born in Alabama and raised in Chicago, Jemison always had a passion for science - especially astronomy - , which was supported and encouraged by her parents. She was admitted into Stanford on a National Achievement Scholarship and went on to acquire her Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering.

Dr. Mae C. Jemison lecturing at SIUE

In 1981, Jemison obtained her M.D. from Cornell University Medical College. Later on, she worked as a general practitioner in Los Angeles County/University of Southern California Medical Center. Her next career move took her to Sierra Leone where she was the area Peace Corps medical officer and a researcher.


After returning to the US in 1985, Jemison decided it was prime time she pursued her childhood dream, and, so, she applied to NASA's astronaut training program. Due to The Challenger catastrophe, the selection process for the program was disrupted (2) . A year later, however, Jemison was one of 15 candidates chosen from a pool of nearly 2000 applicants. It was then, in June of 1987, that Jemison became the first African American woman to be admitted to NASA's astronaut training program.


A year into her training, Jemison became the first African American woman to go into space. Earning the title Science Mission Specialist, she was tasked with conducting scientific experiments for mission STS-47, a cooperative project between the US and Japan. Aboard the Endeavor, Jemison conducted a number of experiments including one that analyzed weightlessness and motion sickness of crew members during their 190 hours in space.


Mission STS-47 was home to the Spacelab Japan Module, which Jemison and her colleagues utilized to conduct 43 life science and materials processing experiments. Jemison was tasked with testing NASA's Fluid Therapy System and producing saline solutions. Moreover, she was the co-investigator of two bone-cell research experiments and participated in an experiment that entailed inducing female frog ovulation and egg fertilization. She then observed the development of tadpoles in zero gravity.


In 1993, Jemison had decided that her career with NASA had reached its last days, and she accepted a teaching fellowship at Dartmouth. In addition, she established the Jemison Group, a company which integrates crucial socio-cultural issues into engineering designs, such as satellite technology for health care delivery in developing countries (3).


Throughout her career, Jemison earned a number of accolades and honors as she continued to serve the STEM community. She also founded the International Science Camp, which teaches and cultivates critical thinking skills. Princeton, Dartmouth, and seven other universities have incorporated the teachings of the International Science Camp into their pedagogy. Ultimately, women such as Jemison have been pivotal in paving the way for young women of color to pursue male-dominated fields and industries.


(1) “Mae C. Jemison.” Biography.com, A&E Networks Television, 27 Feb. 2020, www.biography.com/astronaut/mae-c-jemison.

(2) The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Mae Jemison.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 4 Mar. 2020, www.britannica.com/biography/Mae-Jemison.

(3) “Dr. Mae Jemison.” Dorothy Jemison, jemisonfoundation.org/about/mae-jemison/.

About the Author: Alyaa Elkhafif is a mechanical

engineering major at Stevens Institute of Technology.

Her interest in STEM is coupled with a passion for

politics and social issues. As such, she hopes that her

internship with EWAAB will provide her with the

resources to help other women succeed in both higher

education and the professional world. In the future,

Alyaa aspires to work in the sustainable energy sector.

As of right now, she is pursuing a minor in social science and serving as the president of College Democrats at Stevens.

EWAAB believes that diversity and inclusiveness are the cornerstones of the organization's success. We are dedicated to supporting and connecting with women and nonbinary and gender non-conforming people of all races, ethnicities, religions, sexual orientations, disabilities, socioeconomic backgrounds, and nationalities.

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