How Dr. Mae Jemison Thinks About Time

Dr. Mae Jemison was in outer space for 7 days, 22 hours, 30 minutes, 23 seconds.

And time mattered to Dr. Jemison. Our time, she would say, is limited. But it has unlimited potential.

In the 1960s, when Mae Jemison was a kid, she liked mud pies and pus and exploring. Her kindergarten teacher once asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up. And she answered right back, “A scientist.”

She spent her time on science-y things. Read Madeleine L’Engle. Watched Star Trek. Knew everything about the Apollo program.

It was true that most people doing science-y things were white males and she was an African-American female. It was also true that Dr. Jemison did science-y things anyway.

She went to Stanford. Then Cornell Medical School. But where she really wanted to go was space. So, Dr. Jemison picked up the phone, called NASA. Said, “I’d like an application to be an astronaut.”

And an astronaut is exactly what she became. The first African-American female astronaut.

You have to be audacious, Dr. Jemison says. And a little impatient. But, and on this point she’s clear, “you don’t have to wait for permission.”

In outer space, Dr. Jemison conducted microgravity experiments. She ate freeze-dried chicken à la king. And rode a stationary bike to keep her heart-rate up. Despite NASA’s rigid protocol, she began every communication with Mission Control using the Star Trek line, “Hailing frequencies open.”

Dr. Jemison did a lot with those 7 days, 22 hours, 30 minutes, 23 seconds. And she’s done a lot with her days, hours, minutes, and seconds since. Because our time is limited.

But, as she says, “It’s what we do with our time that gives it unlimited potential.”

The Lightning Notes is funded solely by kind donors. If something here strikes you, I’d be grateful if you’d consider donating. Click to Donate!