Mae C. Jemison was born the youngest of three children of Charlie and Dorothy Jemison, a maintenance worker and school teacher. Raised in Chicago, Illinois, she graduated from Morgan Park High School in 1973.
She earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemical Engineering from Stanford University in 1977, while also fulfilling the requirements for a Bachelor of Arts in African-American Studies. She attended medical school and received a Doctor of Medicine degree from Cornell University in 1981. While in medical school she traveled to Cuba, Kenya and Thailand, providing primary medical care to people living there.
Following medical school Dr. Jemison served in the Peace Corps, from January 1983 to June 1985. She was stationed in Sierra Leone and Liberia, West Africa as the area Peace Corps medical officer. There she supervised the pharmacy, laboratory, medical staff. She provided medical care, wrote self-care manuals, developed and implemented guidelines for health and safety issues. She also had contact with and worked in conjunction with the Center for Disease Control (CDC) on research for various vaccines.
In 1985, after returning from the Peace Corps, Dr. Jemison secured a position with the CIGNA Health Plans of California as a general practitioner in Los Angeles, California. There she began attending graduate classes in engineering and applied to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for admission to the astronaut program. Her first application was not accepted. It was her second application in 1987 that was accepted as an astronaut candidate; Mae Jemison became one of the fifteen candidate accepted from some 2,000 applicants.
Dr. Jemison successfully completed her astronaut training program in August 1988, becoming the fifth black astronaut and the first black female astronaut in NASA history. In August 1992, SPACELAB J was a successful joint U.S. and Japanese science mission, making Mae Jemison the first black woman in space. The cooperative mission conducted experiments in materials processing and life sciences. More information about the mission from the NASA Mission STS-47 press kit.
Mae Jemison is outspoken about the impact of technical advances in the black population, and encourages African Americans to pursue careers in science and engineering. Dr. Jemison is based at NASA’s Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.