When Mae Jemison was born in Decatur, Alabama, in 1956, no one would have predicted that she would break new ground by one day orbiting the Earth.

The child of a roofer/carpenter and an elementary school teacher, Jemison grew up in Chicago. Her parents relocated to Chicago when Jemison was three years old, to give their children better educational opportunities. As a kindergartener who knew how to read when she entered school, Jemison surprised her teacher by telling her she wanted to be a scientist. The choice was unusual for any girl, let alone an African-American girl, in 1961, but Jemison never wavered.

Throughout her academic career, Jemison was an outstanding student. She had a variety of interests outside of school, including dance and theater. In 1973, she accepted a National Achievement Scholarship and entered Stanford University. After graduating with a bachelor of science degree in chemical engineering (and having fulfilled the requirements for a bachelor of arts degree in African and Afro-American Studies), she enrolled in Cornell University Medical College and in 1981 became a general practitioner. Pursuing her interest in global medicine, which had taken her to Cuba, Kenya and Thailand during medical school, she served as a Peace Corps medical officer for more than two years in Sierra Leone and Liberia.

When she returned to the United States in 1985, Jemison decided she wanted to expand her horizons still farther. Pursuing a long-held dream, she applied for admission to NASA’s astronaut training program. The Challenger disaster of January 1986 deferred her dreams temporarily, but when she reapplied a year later, NASA selected her as one of 15 astronaut candidates (from a field of 2,000 applicants).

That selection began a string of “firsts” for Jemison. She was the first African-American woman admitted to the training program and became the first African-American woman astronaut. On Sept. 12, 1992, she became the first African-American woman in space as a science mission specialist on the crew of the Endeavour. The eight-day mission orbited Earth 127 times and included 44 Japanese and U.S. life science and materials processing experiments.

Jemison left the astronaut corps in March 1993 and accepted the Montgomery Fellowship, a teaching position at Dartmouth College. She also established the Jemison Group, a company that researches, develops and markets advanced technologies.

Jemison’s achievements have been recognized with several honorary doctorates, the 1988 Essence Science and Technology Award and the 1992 Ebony Black Achievement Award. She was named Gamma Sigma Gamma Woman of the Year in 1989, and in 1992, Detroit, Michigan, bestowed her name on an alternative public school, the Mae C. Jemison Academy.

These recognitions spotlight how Jemison’s achievements throughout her career have blended her fascination with science, African-American history, and different cultures, as well as her passion for civil rights and equality that stems from growing up during the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s through 1970s.

“When I'm asked about the relevance to Black people of what I do, I take that as an affront,” Jemison has said. “[That question] presupposes that Black people have never been involved in exploring the heavens, but this is not so. Ancient African empires—Mali, Songhai, Egypt—had scientists, astronomers. The fact is that space and its resources belong to all of us, not to any one group.”

Most of all, Jemison has set a stunning example of how someone with capability and ambition can carve a new path to achieving their highest goals—even beyond Earth’s atmosphere.

Pioneering. Pass It On!

Pass It On®

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Your Comments
Hugh from Jass JANUARY 18, 2024
So inspirational

UWU from africa  DECEMBER 7, 2023

Jenna Herritt from Kent state APRIL 14, 2020
Wonderful message

galia zepeda from home OCTOBER 8, 2019
i wish i was in NASA because that is my dream and i belive in my self

Abigail from Florida  SEPTEMBER 7, 2019
You Rock

Rotimi Ogunwemimo from Abeokuta. Nigeria JULY 5, 2019
Wow!!!. A very good example. Ride on Jemison

Anonymous MAY 7, 2019

Sara Tippetts from Idaho MARCH 6, 2019
I am so thankful for people like this who have made it easier for people like me to live my dreams.

ks from lousville MARCH 1, 2019
I like all the billboards

caleb SEPTEMBER 29, 2018
I like all the billboards

Anonymous JULY 20, 2018
So inspiring!

andrew from monoe JANUARY 29, 2018
yep is true

Bridget from DE MAY 17, 2017
Dr Jemison defines success on so many levels... and is really funny too. What a remarkable woman!

Benee from Sacramento, CA APRIL 3, 2017
A true role model for every little girl (and boy)!

Zebra from Houston,Texas FEBRUARY 10, 2017

Zebra from Houston,Texas FEBRUARY 10, 2017

Virginia from Virginia  OCTOBER 30, 2016
Truly Inspirational!! Amen Sister!!!

Humyara from Hudson, NY SEPTEMBER 21, 2016
You inspire us all!

spike APRIL 27, 2016
you are the best

Maurice from Ontario APRIL 14, 2016

Ronae from Austin MARCH 30, 2016
Simply inspiring, what a powerful message!!!

Curtis from Toney, Al. MARCH 27, 2016
I'm Proud!

Ahmed from Goldi MARCH 7, 2016
It's amazing web site and has a massage

Anonymous MARCH 4, 2016
like it

andy from nguyen FEBRUARY 26, 2016
you are cool

victoria from home FEBRUARY 23, 2016
it is so cool

Garrett from Seattle FEBRUARY 22, 2016
She is a beautiful inspiration (inside and outside) to all

Anonymous FEBRUARY 19, 2016

Edward from Houston NOVEMBER 22, 2015
Great accomplishment

Ronnel from Pampanga NOVEMBER 16, 2015
It so cute

Anonymous OCTOBER 23, 2015
This is a very inspiring billboard

Bo from A school SEPTEMBER 10, 2015
This story was great

NULL from NULL JANUARY 27, 2015
We learned about this billboard in my English class and it fully inspired me to do my best. I didn't know anything about and when I found out about this site I wanted to find out more. I love this site, and so does my classmates. I think everyone should visit this site! It's fully inspirational...

NULL from NULL NOVEMBER 11, 2014
Great inspirational synopsis on Mae. So proud of Mae as a well-grounded personality, even beyond her professional achievements. Thanks for the billboard.

Here are some other billboards you might like.