Mae Jemison: I Wanted To Go Into Space

I grew up in the 60s. I lived on the south side of Chicago, and I was a young girl who loved to stare up at the stars. I imagined myself going there. I studied all the things about the Apollo program. I knew what mission was going to take place when, what it was supposed to accomplish. I decided to go to medical school because I wanted to do something called biomedical engineering. While I was in medical school, I had the opportunity to go and work in a Cambodian refugee camp, I went on a study group in Cuba, I worked with flying doctors in East Africa. But I still wanted to go into space. So I applied. I picked up the phone, called down to the Johnson Space Center. I said, “I would like an application to be an astronaut.” They didn’t laugh! I turned in the application. There may be a certain naïveté when I say, when I applied to the astronaut program, I didn’t even think about the fact of whether I would be the first African American woman in space, or anything like that. It didn’t even cross my mind. I wanted to go into space. I couldn’t have cared if there had been a thousand people in space before me or if there had been none. I wanted to go. I thought it was important to take to space with me things that represented people who sometimes are not included. So I took a poster of Judith Jamison performing the dance Cry. I took up a Bundu statue which was for the women’s society in West Africa. I took up a flag for the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, the oldest African American women’s sorority in the United States, because they hadn’t been included and I thought that was an important thing to do. For me, the experience was one that made me feel very connected with the universe. I felt my being was as much a part of this universe as any star, as any comet. It helped me to recognize that right now, we’re in space. This earth is part of that universe. That was my grand connection. And then I looked down and saw Chicago. I thought about the little girl who assumed she would go into space. What would my younger self have thought if she met me? And I think she would have been tickled.

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