The US Needs To Improve Its Science Literacy, Says Astronaut Mae Jemison

STS-47 Endeavour, Orbiter Vehicle (OV) 105. Dr. Jemison is the second from the right in the back. NASA

“I always knew I wanted to go to space,” said Dr Mae Jemison, the first female African-American astronaut. 

Dr Jemison has worked as an engineer, a physician, a Peace Corps member, and is now the lead ambassador for Bayer Making Science Make Sense – an initiative to cultivate science literacy, something we need now more than ever to continue to break frontiers.

Her life has been about breaking boundaries, and her out-of-this-world experiences are perhaps the most well-known. 

In 1992, Jemison sat strapped inside a shuttle in a bright orange suit on top of tons and tons of explosives. 

The solid rocket boosters boomed with millions of pounds of force as Jemison and six other crew members blasted off. The Space Shuttle Endeavor shook them from side to side until the boosters needed to escape the gravitational pull of Earth separated from the shuttle.

Jemison left Earth and made history. Floating in space, she became the first female African-American astronaut.

“The interesting part about being weightless is that when you’re in orbit, it doesn’t feel good the first couple of days,” said Dr Jemison to IFLScience. “You have something called Space Adaptation Syndrome – basically, it feels like you’ve been standing on your head for hours and hours.” 

Similar to motion sickness, Space Adaptation Syndrome messes with the vestibular system of humans. Up and down vanishes in zero-gravity, and instead, a sense of nausea rolls through the body as the astronauts adapt to their new environment.

Jemison aboard the Spacelab Japan (SLJ) science module on the Space Shuttle Endeavour. Wikimedia Commons

“You get used to moving around and functioning in it. It’s almost like you’re on a boat and you get your sea legs,” said Dr Jemison. ”When you get back to Earth, you have that sensation that you ought to be able to just push off.”

Jemison spent more than 190 hours in space, traveled 3.3 million miles, and completed 127 orbits of Earth.

One of her most vivid memories is “seeing the Nile Delta go past, the horn of Africa, and the feeling of connectedness to not just Earth but the universe at large.”

It was that connectedness that brought her to that moment. “Even though I was a very bright kid, I couldn’t do it by myself. I had to have people working with me.” 

“Even the sharpest blade can’t cut its own handle,” she continued, quoting a Yoruba proverb. “And that’s really the job we have with education: How do we get to develop this incredible talent into something that is useful.”

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