And the answer: Mae Jemison.
On the space shuttle Endeavour during its STS-47 mission in 1992, Mae Jemison spent 8 days orbiting Earth, where she logged 190 hours in space. She had a lifelong passion for science inspired by the late, great Nichelle Nichols on Star Trek. When actor Levar Burton heard she was a fan of the show, he invited her to appear in the episode “Second Chances,” where she played Lieutenant Palmer.
Although history remembers Jemison as the first Black woman in space, Jemison was a scientist and individual who shot for the stars in every facet of her life. Jemison grew up in Chicago, and like many other kids decided that she wanted to be an astronaut at a young age. At that time, though, astronauts everywhere were exclusively white and male. That is, everywhere except the U.S.S. Enterprise.
In Lieutenant Uhura, Jemison found her inspiration. With the Star Trek role model in mind, Jemison pursued her passion for biomedical engineering while still in high school, and after graduating in 1973 at the age of 16, she entered Stanford University. There, Jemison went on to receive degrees in chemical engineering and African American studies. In 1977, Jemison took her talents next to Cornell University, where she pursued international medicine. After stints volunteering in Cambodia, serving as a general practitioner in Los Angeles, and becoming a medical officer with the Peace Corps in West Africa, Jemison returned home to the United States to finally pursue her dream of becoming an astronaut.
In 1987, Jemison was one of 15 accepted applicants to NASA—out of a pool of around 2,000. Jemison was the first Black woman to be accepted into the program, and after more than a year of training, she became the first Black woman astronaut, earning the title of Science Mission Specialist.
Did you know?
Today, September 12, marks the date that Mae Jemison became the first Black woman to go to space! While orbiting the Earth inside the Space Shuttle Endeavor, Jemison began each shift by informing Mission Control that “hailing frequencies were open”—a nod to Lt. Uhura’s signature phrase.
Learn more about Mae Jemison’s life and legacy here.