Mae Jemison might have been the first African-American woman to make it to outer space, but audiences shouldn’t hold their breath waiting to hear her talk about life as an astronaut — she’s moved on.
These days, Jemison has transitioned from exploring outer space to accelerating mankind’s understanding of its depths, a literacy she will explore at 10:45 a.m. today in the Amphitheater.
“One of the things that happens in life is that people want you to be in one place,” Jemison said. “Twenty years ago — when I flew into space — it was fabulous. I enjoyed it, and it was pivotal. But, sometimes, you can’t talk about that moment all the time because you’ll just end up living there. So what I’d rather talk about is what I’m doing now and the work that I’ve done since then.”
Today, Jemison is using that perspective to lead the 100 Year Starship Program, an initiative funded by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Project Agency and NASA.
The program aims to garner public interest and funding for the prospect of interstellar space travel. It also hopes to build technologies for the future to improve the world today.
“I spend my time thinking about where we are right now, and how we get to those radical leaps,” Jemison said. “The biggest issue is around public commitment. It’s not really about just the technology and the human systems. A lot of it has to do with where we are right now and how do we get out of this quagmire — sometimes it’s apathy, sometimes it’s fear — to be able to make use of the hopefulness that’s there.”
Many of Jemison’s endeavors straddle the line between social work and scientific research. Following her time with NASA, she founded the Jemison Group to help use new technologies to aid with ongoing socio-cultural issues.
Alongside her work with NASA and the 100 Year Starship Program, Jemison continues cross-disciplinary connection between scientific progress and social work via the international science camp, The Earth We Share. TEWS works to improve scientific achievements for underprivileged Los Angeles-area students.
In the same vein, prior to her work with NASA, Jemison served as an area Peace Corps Medical Officer for Sierra Lione and Liberia for two and a half years.
To Jemison, much of the fate of mankind’s progress rests on where it decides to focus its resources.
“The technology that you use to create a power rocket is the same you use for intercontinental ballistic missiles,” Jemison said. “We get to decide which one we use it for.”