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Watch: First Black Female Astronaut Mae Jemison: ‘Space is Not a Kid’s Sport’

Watch: First Black Female Astronaut Mae Jemison: ‘Space is Not a Kid’s Sport’

by Karen Ocamb on November 22, 2012

Filmmakers Renee Sotile and MJ Godges of Traipsing Thru Films are astronaut aficionados, having fallen in love with the courage and purpose of Space Shuttle Challenger’s “Teacher in Space” Christa McAuliffe, about whom they created an amazing documentary. They were so devoted to telling Christa’s inspirational story about reaching for the stars, they received unprecedented cooperation from her mother Grace Corrigan and from NASA. The filmmakers were especially thrilled when Space Shuttle Endeavour came home to Los Angeles recently and was put on display at the California Science Center. During the formal welcoming ceremonies, they spoke with several people, including the sister of the late lesbian astronaut Sally Ride.

They also later interviewed Dr. Mae Jemison, who became the first African American female to fly in space aboard Endeavor in 1992. Jamison’s application was already into NASA when Challenger exploded in 1986, killing Christa McAuliffe and six astronauts. But Jemison had a dream and remained undeterred.

I held this interview until today, Thanksgiving, because to me Jemison represents the power of the imagination and the courage and ability to pursue and actualize a dream. And for that, I am very grateful.

LGBT people understand the importance of seeing ourselves accurately portrayed in the media and long for the time when images of full equality are not reserved for science fiction. So we understand the power seeing black actress Nichelle Nichols playing Lt. Uhura in the original Star Trek series (1966-1969) must have had on Jemison. Later, Star Trek: The Next Generation LeVar Burton invited the real astronaut to guest star as Lt. Palmer in the episode “Second Chances.”  

But, Jemison told Renee and MJ, her first role models were her parents who believed in themselves and in her. As for being a role model herself, she says:

“At no point in time should you say ‘I can or can’t’ do something because a public figure is there or is not there. How would I ever figure out that – yes, I want to be an astronaut – if I have to figure out that someone has to look exactly like me….Children will do well if their parents and society allow them to do well…It’s adults that have to make the difference right now.”

And, oh, by the way, “space is not a kid’s sport.”

Jemison now has another dream – a big dream – The 100 Year Starship project to “make the capability of human travel beyond our solar system to another star a reality over the next 100 years.” Why? Because:

“The challenge of traveling to another star system has incredible potential to generate transformative knowledge and technologies that will dramatically benefit the nation and the earth in the near term and the years to come.  Taking up the task ignites not only our imagination, but the undeniable human need to push ourselves to accomplishments greater than any single individual.”

Meet Dr. Mae Jemison:

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Renee Sotile November 22, 2012 at 9:15 PM

She is an inspiration and so are you Karen!


mary jo November 22, 2012 at 9:27 PM

Thankful for you Ms. Ocamb & Thank You for being a mighty mighty force in all of our lives.


Alvaniz November 29, 2012 at 3:14 PM

Dr. Jemison,I just watched the re-broadcast the 2009 event. I was strcuk and your grasp and understanding of the issues and your wonderful discussion of your background. The conflict in your background is an awesome starting point in breaking from the traditional educational model of one size fits all , or pick a path model.Your point on the algebra requirement in the 8th grade was very poignant with me as I cheated to get in to algebra class, and that cheating provided me a great amount of success later in life!As to your point of nature vs nurture, my parents did not either discourage my want to explore a future in the sciences, but neighbors that were engineers had huge role in my future. The other speakers on the program were impressive as well and I could go on, but need to end this open letter nowThanks again,Kelly Black


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