The girl who flew to the moon

The girl who flew to the moon

By T. S. Mothibi

The steady flight of an eagle across the sky is a sight to marvel, and the acrobatic flight of the swallow before the rain is one that leaves the watcher amazed at the dexterity of the wing on the air currents invisible to the human eye, but which are felt with each inhale and exhale, or, with the touch of the breezes of the season on the skin.

One can safely guess that man has always wanted to fly as the big birds of the sky do, but lacking in wing and structure, man has had to come up with ingenious ways to aid him to sail the currents and the waves of the air in the sky. From the ancient historical mythologies such as that of Daedalus and Icarus, to the engineering masterpiece designs of the helicopter and other flight machines by Leonardo Da Vinci in the middle ages, to the hot-air balloons invented by Jacque and Josef Montgolfier floating over the skies of Paris in the late 1700’s, and the first flight of the first fixed-wing plane by Frank and Orville Wright in the early 1900’s, humanity’s progress has been by gauged by advancements in technology in relation to taming the elements to adapt them for usage in day-to-day activities.

Earth was the first when man settled and cultivated it for his food, fire became the second when man found it as a tool for cooking his meals and defending him against the predators, and with the human body’s adaptation to swimming and the invention of the boat and the ship, man felt he had indeed come to rule the elements. This victory was however not complete, because man could still not fly like the birds of the sky, but the air was not just to be so easily conquered; for one must first have wings to fly, and man is naturally born without wings. And so man made wings of his own and flew into the future.

It must be understood that the black race and other races have for the larger part of history been segregated to menial roles on the sidelines of progress despite their tremendous contribution in the form of labour and largely unacknowledged innovative techniques in the invention and improvement of technological advancements. History soon seems to forget them and their contributions while their fair-skinned peers enjoy glories that last seventy lifetimes.

An example can be made of the Tuskegee Airmen who saved countless lives in the Second World War whose stories cannot be found on the curricula and syllabi in any African state. That these young brave black men and ace pilots put their lives on the line for the peace of the world is a fact ‘education’ chooses to ignore for, instead of telling African children true tales about black people who made tremendous contributions in the form of innovation and laborious presence on projects meant to advance human civilisation, our educational systems are limited only to the advancement of the superiority complexes of only certain races whose minority on the African continent renders them super-humans if one is to compare the achievements they are said to have achieved on their own.

When the Apollo 11 landed on the moon in 1969, only the names of Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and the others are mentioned. Of the crew at the space centre, none are named. This is the pattern of historical account, only the names at the fore of the ideology are mentioned. Those who toiled in the background are simply forgotten. So, when I chanced upon the tale of the black girl who flew into space and orbited the earth, I found it right to make mention of this brave black woman whose story soon reveals to the sceptic that women are as capable of seemingly impossible feats as men are.

The brief biography on reveals that Mae Carol Jemison was born on October the 17th in 1956. She is an American physician and NASA astronaut who became the first African-American woman to travel in space when she went into orbit aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour on September 12, 1992. After her medical education and a brief general practice, Jemison served in the Peace Corps from 1985 to 1987, when she was selected by NASA to join the astronaut corps.

She then resigned from NASA in 1993 to form a company researching the application of technology to daily life (note her level of practicality). She has appeared on television several times, including as an actress in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation which remains one of the most popular sci-fi shows that has lately seen the release of a number of cinema adaptations. She is a dancer, and holds nine honorary doctorates in science, engineering, letters, and the humanities, and is the current principal of the 100 Year Starship Organization.

Mae Jemison is a woman whose occupations and interests are as diverse as those of a master who is always in constant search of some new territory of the human mind to explore; for the human being can achieve greatness only if they forget the limitations set upon them by other or fellow human beings. One of her famous quotes reveals her resolute character and stubborn will to achieve inspite of or despite prevailing circumstances. In her words she says:

Never limit yourself because of others’ limited imagination; never limit others because of your own limited imagination.

The imagination of one is ignited by one being exposed to new territories in thought and education, being shown that there is another world out there full of possibilities, and at this, the education offered has a huge role to play. That a boy herding cattle in some obscure village in the hinterlands of some forgotten part of our land believes that the world is as wide as the mountains his village lies nestled in, is not a full or true representation the full breadth of his potential; he is just limited in scope by the routine he is forced to follow.

Exposed to other activities and limitless possibilities as found in books of education, the herdboy would surprise anyone that believes his capabilities were only limited to tending to his father’s flocks. The little black girl that grew up in the 1960’s knew that she would one day go into space and, in her own words she solemnly states:

I grew up loving science and always knew that I would go into space someday, despite the barriers I faced as an African-American woman.


Doctor Jemison boldly states that the images she saw on television (aboard Star-Trek’s USS Enterprise) are what fired up her imagination and saw her end up as part of the Endeavour’s crew in 1992. It is a fact that images oftentimes show us possibilities we never thought existed; they open up a secret door in the mind of man that leads to innovation, creation and application of what is imagined. A lot of times, fantasy is what gets us through to reality, for what is fantasised is the makeup of what we dream about, what guides our vision.

That a girl from a race considered the underclass of the world could have ended up where she did is not an accident; she chose the freedom to dream and to follow up on her dreams. Many of us dream to achieve big but then, many of us fail dismally when it comes to following the pattern that leads to the achievement of the dream, and so the dreams die without ever seeing the light of day. The dream which you seek to achieve should be the daily mantra repeated as in a class where the learner attains knowledge by rote.

Repeating the dream’s pattern on a daily leads to one achieving their dream inspite of, or, despite prevailing circumstance, for, what is perceived as an impediment oftentimes turns out to be the whetstone on which the finer details of the dream can be sharpened to precision. When the spaceship Apollo 11 blasted off to the moon from Kennedy Space Centre in 1969, Mae must have been there with the crew in her mind and would go on to repeat the same feat a mere 23 years later. She imagined, and she achieved and can now boldly state veni, vidi, vici (I came, I saw, I conquered). I guess our girls should have the same kind of imagination.

It is said that early in her childhood, Mae Jemison understood the connection of everyday life to science by studying nature, and that once when a splinter infected her thumb, her mother, a public school teacher, turned it into a learning experience: she ended up doing a whole project about pus. Despite the fact that Doctor Jemison’s parents were very supportive of her interest in science, some of her teachers were not very supportive. She states:

“In kindergarten, my teacher asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I told her a scientist. She said, ‘Don’t you mean a nurse?’ Now, there’s nothing wrong with being a nurse, but that’s not what I wanted to be.”

That her teachers were not supportive of her dreams did not deter her from achieving her dream, but the sad reality is that most or many African children end in unsavoury careers because their teachers fail to guide them in the right direction. Only subjects popular in a given era are encouraged and supported by the educational bodies, and despite their being hard to achieve or not in the interest of the pupils, they are fed into the minds of the children as the catechism is fed to the pious.

Everyone should have the freedom to follow the career they dreamt of as children; otherwise they will end up sour incompetent and ineffective workers in their careers. Do what you love, do it with a passion and this black woman’s tale will be a reality to you in your given pursuit for happiness.

In an interview with a popular online magazine, Mae C. Jemison explains how her deeply ingrained interest in science was not accepted.

“Growing up…I was just like every other kid. I loved space, stars and dinosaurs. I always knew I wanted to explore. At the time of the Apollo airing, everybody was thrilled about space, but I remember being irritated that there were no women astronauts. People tried to explain that to me, and I did not buy it.”

Limitation only affects those that agree to be limited, an eagle that believes it is a chicken will indeed believe that it is a rooster and will never take to flight. What the lifestory of Doctor Mae Jemison reveals is the simple fact that we choose to be limited by the imposed opinions of others on our dreams, and we forget the natural fact that every individual is born with a dream or gift unique as their fingerprint and their individuality. That the universe is said to be wide as it is, is a sure sign that the possibilities that exist therein are as endless as the stars found within its confines (if it is confined that is…which I personally do not believe in).

That Mae Jemison sailed to the moon (into space) is a testament that we can achieve whatever it is we want to set our minds upon: for possibility exists forever and impossibility is soon proven a molehill to those that believe that mountains can be transformed into hills if one just believes in their dream. Doctor Jemison says she was inspired by the quintessential Civil Rights activist Reverend Martin Luther King Jnr. To her, Reverend Luther King Jr’s dream was not an elusive fantasy but a call to action, for, she states that though people paint him like Santa, her view of Martin Luther King is one that reveals him as an individual who had a strong attitude, audacity, and bravery. The Civil Rights movement was all about breaking down the barriers to human potential. None of us should therefore let those dream-killers stand in the way of the achievement of our dreams and, in her own words:

The best way to make dreams come true is to wake up.

Only then can we fly to the moon and into space where possibilities to succeed are endless.

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