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Former astronaut Mae Jemison wants to bust this myth about aging

In 1992, Dr. Jemison became the first woman of color to travel to space aboard the Endeavour. Since then, she’s galvanized a movement to help other women break into space exploration.
Mae Jemison smiles as a technician performs tests on her spacesuit.
Technician Sharon McDougle performs an unpressurized and pressurized leak check on Mae Jemison's spacesuit prior to the STS-47 Spacelab-J mission on the shuttle Endeavour, at the Kennedy Space Center, Fla., in 1992.NASA / Interim Archives / Getty Images

Mae Jemison — an engineer and physician by training — made history three decades ago when she became the first woman of color to travel in space during a 1992 mission aboard the space shuttle Endeavour.

For the Alabama-native — who spent six years as a NASA astronaut — that historic achievement was just the beginning.

Dr. Jemison has since founded several ventures — including The Jemison Group, a technology design and consulting company; and the Houston-based Dorothy Jemison Foundation for Excellence, which takes on educational projects. 

Most notably, she launched and currently leads the 100 Year Starship project through the United States Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The goal of the organization focuses on human space travel to another star within the next 100 years.  

Dr. Jemison was recently honored on Forbes and Know Your Value’s 3rd annual “50 Over 50” U.S. list, which celebrates women who have found success later in life, and have shattered age and gender norms. 

Last month, the National Women’s Hall of Fame inductee spoke to “Morning Joe” reporter Daniela Pierre-Bravo about making a lasting impact later in life and what she hopes others will take away from her journey as a woman of color in the sciences.

“So, my career has been really interesting … not just because it was the idea of being in the sciences and engineering, and medicine, and then going into space exploration and working in developing countries and sustainable development,” she told Pierre-Bravo. “It was because I had a really strong social sciences background — being an African Studies major with emphasis in linguistics — and figure out how that applies to the work that we do in the sciences … to understand that perspectives make a difference.”

Throughout her career however, Dr. Jemison faced down challenges and bias in the male-dominated space exploration industry.

“When you go into the sciences, or you go into a place where there not many people like you, then sometimes folks want you to be something that they can understand,” she said. “The reason I bring that up is because you have to see within yourself who you are, you need to understand yourself. The most difficult box I’ve had to get out of is orange flight suit box, because everybody wants me to still be that person who was in the orange flight suit 30 years ago — really cute picture, however I need to grow — I was 35 when that picture was taken.”

Now, at 67, Dr. Jemison is determined to help more women of color enter the sciences, and tear down misconceptions about getting older.

“I think the biggest myth [about aging] is that your capacities — while they change in some ways — they increase exponentially,” she told Pierre-Bravo. “I wish people would get off the aging kick because when people use the term, it anticipates that things are going to be worse or you’re going to decline, but when you think about it, age brings more experiences, more knowledge, and more capacity to understand and influence the world.”