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Mae Jemison

Dr. Mae Jemison speaks onstage at the "100 Year Starship: Interstellar Travel & Beyond" event during the 2013 SXSW festival in Austin, Texas. She was the first African-American woman in space.

Rita Quinn/Getty Images for SXSW

When Mae Jemison peered back at Earth from the space shuttle Endeavour, she felt a sense of unity -- with her hometown of Chicago far below, with every star in the galaxy and, importantly, with her childhood dreams of becoming a scientist. She was the first black female astronaut to travel into space.

Jemison, born in 1956, grew up loving both the sciences and the arts. In college, she studied Russian and Swahili, and earned a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering before completing medical school. She also took modern dance classes at the Alvin Ailey School.

The polymath joined NASA's astronaut training program in 1987 and the Endeavour space shuttle crew in 1992. She was part of an eight-day mission that completed 127 Earth orbits and used her time in space to do bone cell research [sources: NASA, Scholastic].

After leaving NASA in 1993, Jemison founded The Jemison Group to explore products that connect technology and science, and also BioSentient Corp., which focuses on medical technology projects. She also penned an autobiography, started an international sciences camp for children and appeared on science-related television shows, including "Star Trek: The Next Generation" [source: Dr. Mae].

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