First Black female astronaut delivers encouraging speech at the University of Alabama

By WVUA 23 News Reporter Giselle Hood

TUSCALOOSA – A former NASA astronaut shared how she went from a little Black girl in Decatur with dreams of the unknown to a mission specialist aboard the space shuttle Endeavor.

Dr. Mae Jemison spoke to students and faculty at the University of Alabama Friday, Sept. 26, as part of the Blackburn Academic Symposium, an annual campus event that brings the community together through distinguished speakers.

Jemison was the first Black woman in space on the Endeavor in 1992. She’s also an accomplished engineer, a medical doctor and she leads a nonprofit agency.

“I wanted to do science no matter what, I wanted to go into space,” Jemison said. “It didn’t matter if no one had ever gone or if 10,000 people had gone. I just wanted to go into space, because those were personal goals.”

Jemison attended Stanford University at 16 before completing her doctorate at Cornell Medical School and serving as a medical officer in the Peace Corps.

“It’s just about exploring and discovery and figuring out how the world works,” she said. “And then I wanted to contribute in that way as well to see if I could make things better.”

Since resigning from NASA, Jemison became the leader of the 100 Year Starship project, which supports the research and technology that would make interstellar travel possible in the next 100 years. She also spent time as a professor at Dartmouth College and has traveled to speak at a number of universities across the country.

“The one piece of advice that I would give to girls and women is that you have every right to participate. You have every right to belong in this world,” Jemison said. “You don’t have to justify yourself for participating. And the other thing is you don’t have to share the same perspective as everyone else. But, be clear about your perspective and be transparent.”

Jemison continues to encourage minority students in STEM and support science education.

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