Mae Jemison Quotes

Wise Words From the First African American Woman Astronaut

Mae Jemison speaks with reporters at a NASA facility
Mae Jemison speaks with reporters following her selection as an astronaut (Photo: Bettmann Archive / Getty Images).

Mae Jemison (born October 17, 1956) became the first African American woman astronaut in 1987. Inspired both by Sally Ride, the first American female astronaut, and by Nichelle Nichols's portrayal of Lieutenant Uhura on Star Trek, Jemison applied in 1983. The program had been suspended following the 1986 Challenger disaster, but Jemison was accepted after it re-opened in 1987. Mission Specialist Mae Jemison flew her sole mission in 1992 aboard the shuttle Endeavour.

Born in Alabama but raised in Chicago, Jemison had an interest in science from a very young age. Although the early space program had no female astronauts - or black astronauts, for that matter - Jemison was determined. She started college at Stanford University at the age of 16, got an engineering degree, and followed it with medical school at Cornell Medical College.

Jemison was a physician and scientist who also spent time with the Peace Corps before applying to NASA. After leaving NASA's space program to pursue her interest in the intersection of social science and technology, Jemison became a professor: first at Dartmouth, then at Cornell. She continues to use her knowledge to support educational efforts and encourage curiosity and scientific experimentation, especially among young people.

Selected Mae Jemison Quotations

  1. Don't let anyone rob you of your imagination, your creativity, or your curiosity. It's your place in the world; it's your life. Go on and do all you can with it, and make it the life you want to live.
  2. Never be limited by other people's limited imaginations...If you adopt their attitudes, then the possibility won't exist because you'll have already shut it out ... You can hear other people's wisdom, but you've got to re-evaluate the world for yourself.
  3. Sometimes people have already decided who you are without your story shining through.
  4. The best way to make dreams come true is to wake up.
  5. There have been lots of other women who had the talent and ability before me. I think this can be seen as an affirmation that we're moving ahead. And I hope it means that I'm just the first in a long line.
  6. More women should demand to be involved. It's our right. This is one area where we can get in on the ground floor and possibly help to direct where space exploration will go in the future.
  7. The thing that I have done throughout my life is to do the best job that I can and to be me.
  8. People may see astronauts and because the majority are white males, they tend to think it has nothing to do with them. But it does.
  9. When I'm asked about the relevance to Black people of what I do, I take that as an affront. It presupposes that Black people have never been involved in exploring the heavens, but this is not so. Ancient African empires -- Mali, Songhai, Egypt -- had scientists, astronomers. The fact is that space and its resources belong to all of us, not to any one group.
  10. I want to make sure we use all our talent, not just 25 percent.
  11. Pay attention to the world around you and then find the places where you think you’re skilled. Follow your bliss -- and bliss doesn’t mean it’s easy!
  12. It is important for scientists to be aware of what our discoveries mean, socially and politically. It's a noble goal that science should be apolitical, acultural, and asocial, but it can't be, because it's done by people who are all those things.
  13. I don't know that having been in space gives me a better idea of whether life might exist on other planets. The reality is that we know that this universe, that our galaxy, has billions of stars. We know that stars have planets. So the likelihood that there is life somewhere else to me is just absolutely there.
  14. Science is very important to me, but I also like to stress that you have to be well-rounded. One's love for science doesn't get rid of all the other areas. I truly feel someone interested in science is interested in understanding what's going on in the world. That means you have to find out about social science, art, and politics.
  15. If you think about it, HG Wells wrote First Men in the Moon in 1901. Imagine how incredulous, fantastical that idea was in 1901. We didn’t have rockets, we didn’t have the materials, and we weren’t really flying. It was incredible. Less than 100 years later, we were on the moon.
  16. While we're orbiting Earth in the shuttle, the sky looks exactly as it looks here on Earth, except that the stars are brighter. So, we see the same planets, and they look the same way as they look here.
  17. In some ways I could have been seen as further ahead if I had taken an easier path, but every now and then I stop and think I probably wouldn’t have been happy.

Selected Sources

  • Cooper, Desiree. "Stargazer turned astronaut credits the MLK dream". Detroit Free Press, 20 Jan. 2008.
  • Fortney Jr., Albert. The Fortney Encyclical Black History: The World's True Black History. Xlibris, 2016.
  • Gold, Lauren. "Former shuttle Endeavour astronaut Mae C. Jemison encourages students to think like scientists". Cornell University, 11 July 2005.
  • Jemison, Mae. Find where the wind goes: moments from my life. New York: Scholastic, 2001