In my very first post, I discussed the relevance of Cecilia Payne who, with the help of her husband Sergei, was one of the most prominent astronomers ever and was the first person recorded to conclude the compositions of stars, so that we knew they were big balls of gas, and not fireflies stuck in the sky (or Mufasa).
Today, I want to talk about Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman to enter space.
Okay, so who is Mae Jemison, why is she important, and what does it matter what she did after a bunch of white men landed on the moon? (Trust me, she does fucking matter.)
I’m deliberately not going to discuss certain details throughout this series – like birth/death timelines, for example – for several reasons:
- People get bored super quick, so I want you to know about the person and what they did
- And I kind of want to encourage you to check some of these awesome women out in your own time, so I’m hoping that if I leave you wanting more, you might start looking
However, while this will be a general pattern throughout the series, there will be certain people like Mae Jemison who need their timeline to be acknowledged, because it illustrates just how important her contributions are and were, and what obstacles she had to face and overcome to achieve them.
Mae was born in 1956, which, I don’t know if you know, wasn’t a fantastic time to be a black person in America (which is why it’s fucking important to acknowledge it).
Mae, from a young age, was absolutely in love with the idea of going to space. She was fortunate to have amazing, supportive parents who had the opportunity to move to Chicago when she was small so that her entire family could have a better life; despite this, however, she received very little encouragement from educators and outsiders.
I think it’s also important to note that while Mae, being a young black woman in America, faced obstacles that we may literally never truly understand or comprehend in any manner, her path was also paved by some other amazing back women who worked with NASA against all odds. If this story sounds slightly familiar, it’s because you’re thinking of Hidden Figures, and the real heroes at NASA who’ve done all that shit and, until recently, have never been fucking credited for any of it.
I think it’s a hugely important reminder that everything Mae faced was made easier by black women like Katherine Johnson, as well as the fact that Johnson’s path was helped to be forged by equally powerfully strong black women like Claudette Colvin, the actual first black woman (not Rosa Parks) to refuse to give up her seat on a bus, and was an integral part of the civil rights movement.
As a result of being a black woman in America, Mae would suffer extreme racial sexism; however, she frequently credits her parents for their belief in her that helped encourage her to follow her dreams to become an astronaut.
Mae, after having to apply twice to NASA, was finally accepted into their astronaut program in 1987 (admissions were delayed after the Challenger).
Despite the fact the fucking Challenger had just exploded, Mae was all like, ‘Well, I didn’t join this program to fuck spiders’ and launched the first flight after it exploded. So if you’re ever doubting the strength of women, especially black women, look at fucking Mae Jemison who was like, ‘Yeah, explosions and shit. But SPACE!’
But, if you’re thinking Mae’s just awesome because she overcame every obstacle life threw at her and went, ‘Fuck you, I can do this shit, watch me’, and that okay, so it was kind of brave that she launched the first flight after the disaster (it was really brave, but maybe you’re really cynical or maybe you’re just shitty), and so what? It’s just space, what did she really achieve?
Well, firstly, maybe you need to research the background Mae, and other black people in America faced, and look at just how much she achieved and acknowledge her for what she did.
But, that’s literally just small potatoes in Mae’s career.
Mae was instrumental in:
- Understanding motion sickness in space
- Bone Cell research
- The effects of weightlessness had on her and her colleagues
- Consistently improving technologies to help advance the human race, even after she resigned from NASA
- And she’s still doing a bunch of shit. Just check out her fucking Twitter. The woman is a living, breathing machine.
So when you’re watching First Man, which I’m personally looking forward to seeing, and you’re thinking of Neil Armstrong, think also of Mae Jemison. Think also of all the other forgotten black women that were influential in paving the way for Neil Armstrong to land on the moon – because while his efforts, and the efforts of his entire team should be acknowledged and praised – so should all those that helped it happen.
Remember that Mae Jemison was the first African-American woman to enter space.
— Sources —
Bachelor of Education: English and History
Diploma in Criminology and Profiling
Diploma in Forensic Science
Background in law and psychology
Teacher 7+ years
Background in special needs, learning support – other specific teaching fields that required hands-on development.
NB: This is a declaration of the background of my personal knowledge, collected over the years via a professional form of education and development. Some of these take the form of actual degrees and others come in the form of necessary professional development. When doing your own, you should always try and verify the person’s credibility. My credibility, nor anyone else’s, is not with their education. Everyone has biases and no one is infallible. I am deliberately including some of my background education to highlight this, because you should be questioning information you are receiving.