Mon | May 28, 2018

Female astronaut encourages scientists to Soar above expectations (part II)

Published:Thursday | February 7, 2013 | 12:00 AM
Astronaut Dr Mae Jemison, the first woman of colour to travel to space, at a science diplomacy lecture designed for practising scientists, students and educators which was held on Tuesday at the United States Embassy in Liguanea, St Andrew. - photos by Ian Allen/Photographer

Anastasia Cunningham, News Coordinator

In part two of the exclusive Gleaner interview with Dr Mae Jemison, the first African-American female astronaut, the pioneer looks at the status of space exploration, scientific development and the possibility of other life forms in the wider universe. The accomplished scientist, medical doctor and engineer was in Jamaica for a lecture series on science and space exploration, as part of the United States Embassy's Black History Month celebrations.

BEING THE first African-American female astronaut and serving six years as part of the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration programme, space exploration will always hold a special place in Dr Mae Jemison's heart.

Today, not so different from that little girl from Chicago, United States, who spent countless hours gazing into the stars with big dreams to one day explore the unknown, the passionate belief that endless possibilities are out there still beats at the centre of her heart.

But, looking at the development of the space exploration programme, Jemison believes that, despite the advancements made, more could have been done.

"We first landed on the moon in 1969. It was back in the 1960s that we started putting humans into space. I have been a little bit disappointed that we didn't go further. In fact, when I became an astronaut, I would have been expecting to go to another planet," she shared with The Gleaner, sitting inside the lounge of the United States Embassy.

"There has been a stagnation in some sense in some of the work that we have done in space exploration, and I think it is because of this pullback that there is not enough money to do that, but at the same time we walk around with the latest gadgets, technology that seems so commonplace, but had it not been for that pioneering work pushing just a little bit further some 50 years ago, we wouldn't have the technology we do now.

If it had not been for the technological investment we did back in those early days, we would not be where we are now."

She added: "Yes, we have had a lot of advancements, but I think we need to be bold in going further, doing more. The fact is, we would not be as far as we are if someone had not dared to do a number of different things. I am happy to be involved with it, but space exploration has a long way to go."

She hopes that through her global initiatives, The Earth We Share and 100 Year Starship, she will be able to push science and space exploration even further, making the conditions favourable for humans to travel and flourish in another star system within the next 100 years.


Jemison also believes there needs to be a more global approach to scientific exploration.

"I think in general we have not been using the full scope of talent that we have in terms of women and what in the US are called under-represented minorities in the sciences; we can do more," Jemison stated.

"It will make a big difference because different people have different perspectives and they can come up with very different solutions to problems, based on a varied number of factors.

"We need the perspective of people from different countries, across gender, ethnicity and geography in order to come up with our best solutions for making the world a better place."

She is heartened that her outstanding achievements and accomplishments have been an inspiration to many across the globe, and hopes to make an even greater impact by sharing the lessons she has learnt, as well as helping to change the mindset of the decision-makers.

"I think one of the biggest impacts I can have is to change the perception of the white males who run the science and technology industry about who could be involved, because often they are the ones giving out the scholarships and making the critical decisions. so I think it is important to have their perspective change," she noted.


Naturally, with Jemison's incredibly curious mind and creativity, including her exploration in arts and entertainment as a dancer and actor, she has often wondered about other life forms in the wider universe.

With laughter, she shared, "How could I not think about whether there is life elsewhere in the universe. I don't know that it is in our solar system. I mean, there is great evidence that Mars could have supported life at one time.

"But what does life out there mean, though? Does it mean that there are humanoids walking around and they look just like us, except for pointed ears or something? We just don't know. I have no idea. We don't know what it is going to be like, it might even be something we don't recognise."

However, she noted, "I can't imagine that in this universe of billions and billions and billions of stars and planets that we have been finding around these stars in our own galaxy, that life, in whatever form, isn't elsewhere."

With a probing, playful smile, she added, "That would be a shame if we were the only ones, wouldn't it?"