An Exclusive with an Astronaut



By Paul M. Banks

Although the following has absolutely nothing to do with sports, the chance to have lunch with and interview an astronaut is pretty rare. They have more juice than most people you’ll ever meet…maybe that’s why NASA endorses Tang.

Chicago native and hometown hero Dr. Mae C. Jemison is the nation’s first African-American female astronaut, going into orbit aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour on September 12, 1992. The educator/scientist is also the former director of the Jemison Institute of Environmental Studies at Dartmouth College and founder of the international science camp, The Earth We Share. Jemison moved to Chicago with her family when she was three and entered Stanford University upon graduating from Morgan Park High School at age 16. She earned her medical degree at Cornell University, before joining the Peace Corps and later NASA. Her work there included launch support activities at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and verification of Shuttle computer software in the Shuttle Avionics Integration Laboratory. She’s won so many awards that it would take me thousands of words to mention them, a few are….

Ebony’s 50 Most Influential women (1993)
National Women’s Hall of Fame inductee (1993)
People magazine’s 1993 50 Most Beautiful People in the World
National Medical Association Hall of Fame
Honorary Doctorate of Humanities, Princeton University
International Space Hall of Fame inductee (2004)


On Thursday June 5th, World Environment Day, the Houston resident returned to the Chicago metropolitan area, which was serving as the United Nations’ North American host for an International Climate Change Forum at the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe, Illinois. Jemison was a featured speaker.

PMB: Do you think there is a difference between generations in how this issue is viewed?

MJ: How it’s brought to you matters. Children are more open to things; adults have to change so they don’t bring up their children with the same habits…Today we start to see that gas prices are going up; the rest of the world has been paying high gas prices but we have been insolated from that. As we see gas prices going up, we begin to think about ways to mitigate its impact on us economically, talk about mass transportation, talk about sharing rides, all the things we should have been doing anyway. I was on a radio show earlier, and the host brought up the idea that the environment and environmentalism is a subject for rich people, a rich person’s pursuit. That’s because we phrase the question as environment vs. economy, but that’s not the question. We can create jobs that help to decrease our impact on the environment. The question should be what kind of world “do we want our children to inherit?

Our audience is the school kids today but also the greater audience, all the adults who  brought them, all the adults who viewed the botanical gardens. The news media also, information gets out through the news media to everyone else. We did a little exercise with the students, things they can do that are not that difficult and that can affect their carbon footprint.  They got the water, talked about turning the lights off; these seem like small things but they are important. We even talked about the burgers…how many square feet of the rain forest is impacted by a ¼ pounder with cheese. I’d look at a quarter pounder and probably choose the 55 sq feet of rain forest. It is an easy choice for me, but it’s not when it’s so far disconnected from everything else.

PMB: My media colleagues REALLY screwed up how they presented this issue to the public and even today I feel many outlets still haven’t been truly “balanced” in their coverage of this issue. What’s the best way to fix this?

MJ: Making science make sense. After I got out of NASA I thought science literacy was very important. Making science literacy important, not in a journal, but in a regular newspaper. The best way to get people to realize the equation is different is to know a little bit about ph, a little bit about critical thinking. The best way to understand the equation is different is to have them be science literate, having our leaders be science literate. They get confused on what it really is to be balanced ….one in every 50 times, but when you talk about this balanced point of view, you mention what is weighted then what is most specious, giving it equal time. That is not really balanced.
PMB: What changes in people’s attitudes have you seen lately and why?

MJ: Whether it had to do with global warming or not, what galvanized us was hurricane Katrina. That’s when people realized Mother Nature has a greater impact than we think. But it doesn’t register home until it happens here. The tsunami was somewhere else; it didn’t register as much. Two thirds of the world’s population has to walk more than a few miles to get water. If we had to walk even upstairs to get water, it would change our habits. The most frightening thing is that people think that there is more time. I don’t have to decide to do anything right now. Think back to high school chemistry and discussing buffers- all of a sudden it’s acidic and not buffered and you cannot get it back to its previous state. You didn’t know where it was till you hit that point.  It’s a titration- that’s what they used to call them. Some people think we have already passed the point where we can make a difference. If we care at all about our children, we’ll have to do something now.
Finally Dr. Jemison concluded, “I want to add that corporations have to spend time looking at their own carbon footprint. How do they decrease the amount of water and energy they use, work toward engaging the communities that they are in, and figure it out. Corporations can not exist without people and people cannot exist without a healthy environment!”



  1. paulmbanks says

    She has the most juice of anyone I have probably met. period. well with the exception of Jason Moe

  2. Jason Moe says

    Thanks Banks…No one has Juice like me…

    Banks, Did you use the cut down ” Your Mothers is an Astronaut”… that is from “White Men Can’t Jump” for all you people that have no clue..ha

  3. paulmbanks says

    Yeah, I never understood that “your mama” joke, because I didnt see how it was truly derogatory

  4. seymourpennants says

    Banks – Smokin’ hot Space Chicks! Respect from Seymour!

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