UCD awards honorary degree to first black woman in space

5 Sep 2023

Dr Mae Carol Jemison. Image: Chris Bellew/Fennell Photography;

Dr Jemison was part of the Space Shuttle Endeavour mission in 1992 and was described as someone who ‘epitomises’ what a global and interstellar explorer should be.

Dr Mae Carol Jemison, the first black woman to travel into space, has been awarded an honorary Doctor of Engineering degree by University College Dublin (UCD).

After being inspired by Lieutenant Uhura from Star Trek and Sally Ride’s spaceflight Jemison applied for entry into NASA, where she was rejected and subsequently accepted in 1987.

Jemison served as an astronaut for six years and was part of the Space Shuttle Endeavour mission in 1992, becoming the first woman of colour to travel to space.

She resigned from NASA in 1993 to be a proponent for greater science education, but said of her achievement, “I wouldn’t have cared less if 2,000 people had gone up before me … I would still have had my hand up, ‘I want to do this.’”

Even outside of this achievement, Jemison’s work is out of this world. She is trained in various fields, being an engineer, social scientist, dancer and a medical doctor. Shortly after resigning from NASA, she founded The Jemison Group, a technology consulting firm that considers the social, cultural and economic impacts of technology.

In 1994, Jemison founded the international science camp The Earth We Share, which teach interdisciplinary STEM education to young people.

Jemison received the honorary degree at a UCD graduation ceremony yesterday (4 September), in the presence of hundreds of students. UCD’s Prof Lizbeth Goodman said Jemison “epitomises” what a global and interstellar explorer should be.

“She thinks, makes, and moves beyond boundaries of time and space, beyond silos of academic disciplines, beyond expectations and social or even scientific norms,” Goodman said.

“She embodies a much-needed optimism and spirit of adventure, driving and informing her determination to succeed not only for her own sake but also for all humanity and for the sake of the Earth itself.”

Jemison is no stranger to awards and recognition, being an inductee of the National Women’s Hall of Fame and the National Medical Association Hall of Fame in the US. She is also recognised in the Texas Science Hall of Fame and the International Space Hall of Fame. She has also received the Common Wealth Award of Distinguished Service, the National Organisation for Women’s Intrepid Award and the Kilby Science Award.

Meanwhile, another space achievement was recently hit by Virgin Galactic, as the company sent the first mother-daughter duo into space.

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic