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This Day in History: September 12th

Mae Jemison Becomes the First Black Woman to Travel to Space

On September 12, 1992, Mae C. Jemison became the first black woman to travel to space. Jemison, an astronaut and physician, was also the first black woman to be admitted into NASA’s astronaut training program in 1987.

Jemison flew into space with six other astronauts aboard the Endeavour on mission STS47. The mission was a joint effort between NASA and the National Space Development Agency of Japan. Together the agencies conducted microgravity investigations in materials and life sciences.

The historic international crew consisted of Mae Jemison, the first black woman astronaut, the first Japanese astronaut and the first married couple to fly on the same space mission. They were divided into red and blue teams for around-the-clock operations. The crew conducted 24 materials science experiments and 20 life science experiments.

The study sought to explore gravity’s role in the development of life on earth. Test subjects included the crew, Japanese koi fish, cultured animal and plant cells, chicken embryos, fruit flies, fungi and plant seeds and frogs and frog eggs.

Dr. Thora Halstead, one of the program’s scientists stated in the press release, “Our life sciences research seeks to distinguish the role gravity plays in the development and functions of life on Earth. We can study plants and animals — including humans — in the microgravity of space. With the overwhelming influence of gravity removed, basic physical processes can be studied more easily.”

The materials science investigations covered areas that include biotechnology, electronic materials, fluid dynamics, transport phenomena, glasses and ceramics, metals and alloys and acceleration measurements. The life sciences experiments focused on human health, cell separation and biology, developmental biology, animal and human physiology and behavior, space radiation and biological rhythms.

During the eight-day exploration in space, Jemison conducted experiments on weightlessness and motion sickness on both the crew and herself. As one of the mission specialists, Jemison was also a co-investigator on two-bone cell research experiments. She spent more than 190 hours in space before returning to Earth.

After traveling more than 3 million miles into space, the seven astronauts returned back to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on September 20, 1992. Jemison left NASA the following year in March 1993.

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