As elite members of human space programs, or one of the select few pilots working for the military, black women have been soaring above fruited plains and far-flung planets for the cause of space exploration and freedom since 1922. In the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, they have battled gender and racial biases to demonstrate – once again – the unstoppable power of a determined sister.
An avid student, Mae Jemison earned dual degrees in chemical engineering and African-American studies at Stanford University, while becoming fluent in Japanese, Russian and Swahili. She received a doctor of medicine degree from Cornell University and then served in the Peace Corps in Sierra Leone and Liberia. Upon her return to the United States, Jemison applied to the astronaut program at NASA.
Her original application was rejected, but the second time around, she was one of 15 candidates selected from a field of 2, 000. When Jemison concluded her training in 1988, she was the fifth black astronaut, and the first black female astronaut in the history of NASA. She completed her first flight in 1992. It was an eight-day mission, and she logged 190 hours, 30 minutes and 23 seconds on the space shuttle Endeavor as a mission specialist – making her the first black woman to go into space.