This Day in History – September 12, 1992

Dr. Mae Jemison becomes the first African American woman in space


On this day in 1992, Dr. Mae Jemison became the first African American woman in space when she launched on the Space Shuttle Endeavour from Kennedy Center in Florida to join Spacelab J, a joint U.S.-Japan mission.

Dr. Jemison was born in Alabama but graduated from Morgan Park High School in Chicago. She went on to earn a bachelor of science in chemical engineering and a bachelor of arts in African and Afro-American Studies from Stanford University and a doctorate degree in medicine from Cornell University in 1981.


After completing an internship at Los Angeles County/USC Medical Center in 1982, Dr. Jemison worked as a general practitioners in Los Angeles and then joined the U.S. Peace Corps as a Medical Officer for Sierra Leone and Liberia in West Africa. There, she managed the health care delivery system for U.S. Peace Corps and U.S Embassy personnel.

After returning to the United States, Dr. Jemison was working as a general practitioner and attending graduate engineering classes in Los Angeles when NASA selected her for the astronaut program in June 1987.

Her NASA career was delayed after the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger in 1986, but she reapplied in 1987. She has said she felt the NASA program had opened up to women and minorities after astronaut Sally Ride launched in the early 1980s.

During her tenure with NASA, Dr. Jemison has supported launch activities at Kennedy Space Center and performed various duties including verification of Shuttle computer software in avionics labs.

She was the science mission specialist on STS-47 Spacelab-J during the eight-day mission that was accomplished in 127 orbits of the Earth and included 44 Japanese and U.S. life science and materials processing experiments.


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