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Back talk with Dr. Mae C. Jemison.

Mae C. Jemison will always be remembered as the first African American woman to go into space, serving as a science mission specialist aboard the space shuttle Endeavour on Sept. 12, 1992. Seven years later, she used her NASA experience to launch BioSentient Corp., a medical technology company aimed at improving health and human performance through physiologic awareness and self-regulation. Originally designed to help with space adaptation syndrome, a condition similar to motion sickness, the technology now serves as a treatment for stress-related disorders (see Techwatch July 2003).

Jemison, 49, also educates teenagers at The Earth We Share, an international science camp she founded. She's also excited about A Celebration of Women of Color in Flight, a conference promoting women's historical contributions to aviation and space exploration. In the following interview, the Decatur, Alabama, native shares her views on space travel, politics, and her life philosophy.

With all the economic disparities, social hardships, and issues facing black America, how can we justify spending billions of dollars on the space program?

I think the phrasing of the question is unfair. We have a tendency to phrase things as black issues or nonblack issues, which is really nonsensical because what happens to the United States and its resources are a responsibility for all of us. Your question makes more sense if you said the choice was war versus poverty. The defense industry has a budget that completely blows away anything that you talk about with NASA. Right now, NASA's budget is somewhere around $15 billion. However, when you look at that in the context of the entire U.S. budget, it's a drop in the hat.

Some people don't understand the impact space exploration has on our lives.

We don't actually stop to think what space exploration really is. All the remote sensing pictures that show hurricanes come from space exploration. When we talk about what's going on with the ozone, that's from space.

Do we all have cell phones? Do we use beepers? Do we look at the weather report? Do we use EKGs and various other types of machines that do magnetic resonance imaging? Those things are based on algorithms that come out of space exploration. Another thing that really bugs me: We forget that African Americans have a proud history of looking into space and looking at the stars. We have a proud heritage with advanced technology and design. And if you look at it in terms of the impact that NASA has on the U.S. economy, it's pretty staggering. Historically, for every dollar that goes into NASA about $7 appears in the U.S. economy because of the technological innovations.

Are you politically active?

In addition to the fact that I vote, I think I'm politically active because I put together an international science camp where students ages 12 to 16 come from all around the United States and the world. We teach them critical thinking skills so they learn to solve problems. I think that's politically active because the more people you get to think and understand that they are responsible for this world, the better off we're going to be.

What are some of your other interests?

I've danced all my life. I've taken everything from African and Haitian dancing to ballet to Japanese dancing. I don't perform or anything.... It's part of what I do. I think physical movement and expression are very important. It's important for people to be physically active because it clears the mind and helps you focus. Dance is one of those things that is very creative and it helps you to focus while expending tremendous amounts of energy.

You turn 50 this year. What are your thoughts un reaching this milestone?

Every day of my life, since I was first conscious of time going by, I've tried to live in such a way that if I weren't around the next day, all would be well. I just don't understand us--we have a difficult time living in the moment. I'm used to living this particular day, right now.
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Author:Meeks, Kenneth
Publication:Black Enterprise
Article Type:Interview
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2006
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