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Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Activities & Organizations

Astronaut descends onto campus, draws students to space flight

Mae C. Jemison

The first African-American woman to travel in space invited students and faculty to join her on the mission to achieve human interstellar flight during her lecture for the 2013 Elizabeth D. Rockwell Lecture Series on Ethics and Leadership.

Mae C. Jemison, who served as an astronaut for six years, is promoting her initiative to further increase human involvement in the future of space exploration. The 100 Year Starship is an independent nonprofit organization that was started with funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. While the goal is to achieve human interstellar flight within the next 100 years, Jemison said one of the main purposes is to provide for a better future on Earth.

“All the capabilities that are needed for an interstellar journey are the same things that we need to survive here on Earth as a species,” Jemison said. “This is a mission that was designed to enhance life here on Earth.”

Jemison said that the 100 Year Starship project is a “trans-disciplinary collaboration among universities, governments, industries and nonprofits” and will require the “full range of human experience.” She said she believes all of the technical issues that range from energy to clothing can be solved, but she warned the audience, “If we haven’t figured out how to get along with each other, I’m going to blow the ship up.”

According to Jemison, one of the most critical parts to achieving the 100 Year Starship is science, technology, engineering and math education and increasing diversity in these fields. 

Jemison worked with the Bayr Co. and surveyed the department chairs of leading research universities. The surveys they conducted showed that despite women being the most academically prepared of all students to succeed in STEM classes, they graduated in lower numbers than their male counterparts. The same case applied for underrepresented minorities.

“The best path forward to meet the demands and the imperative to improve human quality of life while not overburdening this planet — that path is not clear,” Jemison said. “The path being slashed is not necessary the best path or even a good path. Yet we are defining and building that path with less than a third of the intellectual capacity, experience, ambitions, visions and perspectives that are available to us.”

Jemison said increasing STEM diversity would lead to more talent and success in the prospects of the project as well as STEM research.

“Our task is to ensure that the capabilities exist to send humans to another star within the next 100 years,” she said. “It’s really not about the mission; it’s about boosting and revitalizing science and technology innovation.”

Bonnie Dunbar, a veteran of five space flights and head of the STEM Center at UH, introduced Jemison.

“She’s done some remarkable things,” Dunbar said, “and I know she is still doing some remarkable things.”

Jemison started her journey to space at a young age. She entered Stanford University at the age of 16, graduated from Cornell University and went on to practice medicine. Later, she served as a Peace Corps medical officer in West Africa.

“I’m this young girl who grew up on the south side of Chicago in the 1960s,” Jemison said. “I would lie outside on a summer’s night, and I would stare up at the stars with all my young imagination and intensity, and I would imagine myself there, and I always assumed that I would go into space.”

In 1993, she founded The Jemison Group Inc., which focuses on the beneficial integration of science and technology into our everyday lives.

“We believe that pursuing an extraordinary tomorrow creates a better world today,” Jemison said. “What we hope to do is to inspire an inclusive, collective ambition for humanity.”

The future of interstellar travel is on the horizon, and Jemison said she hopes to reach everyone with her vision of the future.

“We invite you to participate,” Jemison said. “Space is not just for rocket scientists and billionaires. That’s where the difference comes in. We want people to know that they can be involved.”

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