At SXSW, Dr. Mae Jemison, the First African-American Woman in Space, Is Taking the World into the Future

March 13, 2013  |  

MadameNoire Business continues its coverage of SXSW with our writer on the ground and on the scene — Mary Pryor, aka the Urban Socialista — who’s reporting on some of the hot panels, sights, and sounds. We’ll be posting her coverage from the conference over the coming days.

SXSW provided the opportunity to catch up with astronaut and the first African-American woman in outer space, Dr. Mae Jemison.  Her presence leaves everyone in awe of her beautiful mind. Today, she has the responsibility of leading the 100 Year Starship project. This might sound like something from a science fiction novel: Dr. Jemison’s role in the 100 Year Starship project is to help change the world by leading an effort to send and sustain humans in interstellar space travel within the next 100 years.

On a deeper level, Dr. Jemison wants to help humans be better people and make an impact against the stereotypical images of African-American women. The goal in that effort is to uplift and encourage our community to take responsibility for our media perception. It is time to create and share images that display our dreams versus what we see on television. “You know what’s really amazing about kids is that they keep trying despite what adults tell them. How do you get other images in front of them? What can you point them toward that can get them to see other possibilities?”

“Were making choices as to what kind of worlds we are leaving our children. The media is also making choices as the what kind of images we are leaving for our children to see,” she added.

In December 2011, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) selected a team led by Dr. Jemison as the winner of a $500,000 grant. Dr. Jemison, whose partners included the Icarus Foundation and the Foundation for Enterprise Development, won with a proposal called “An Inclusive, Audacious Journey Transforms Life Here on Earth and Beyond.”

“I felt I could do this and the reason to do it was because space had to more than something we read about,” she said. Many of the major advancements in technology have been developed from products that were meant for space exploration. From the global positioning satellites (GPS) and the satellites that help cellular phones operate to new materials used in modern fashion. “The challenge of traveling to another star system could generate transformative activities, knowledge, and technologies that would dramatically benefit every nation on Earth in the near term and years to come,” Dr. Jemison added.

Dr. Jemison’s overall purpose for leading projects such as the 100 Year Starship is to how people see the world through increased inclusion. She strongly feels that images make a difference. “The media gets to choose what type of images that are placed in front of us. Is it valuable to put to other images in front of us? In front of little girls? In front of grown men? People use to ask me what difference did it make that I was the first African-American woman to get into space. And I have to tell them it is impactful for older white males to see someone like me. They may be making a decision about scholarships or jobs and they need to see that other images are possible.”

How can you get involved with this project? Visit 100yss.org and sign up for news alerts. The project is also hosting a symposium in Austin, TX in September. Thought leaders, experts, trendsetters, and anyone who believes in the overall mission of 100 Year Starship are invited to join in a discussion that will lead to new advancements that will shape the organization’s work for years to come.

“I want to see everyone talk about 100 Year Starship. I want this to get as much love and support as something that you would see on a Real Housewives or the latest celebrity. We have to show that other things are possible. If we don’t we start truncate dreams and imagination.”

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