In 1992, Mae Jemison became the first African-American woman to fly in space when she served as a science mission specialist on the space shuttle Endeavour. We've decided to ask the space pioneer three questions about a truly unpredictable vehicle — the airport shuttle.
In 1992, Mae Jemison became the first African-American woman to fly in space when she served as a science mission specialist. We've invited Jemison to play a game called "Excuse me? When do we get to the Southwest terminal?" Jemison has flown in the space shuttle Endeavour, so we thought we'd ask her questions about a sometimes more unpredictable vehicle ... the airport shuttle.
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PETER SAGAL, HOST:
And now, the game where we ask people who've done amazing things to do something rather mundane. In 1992, Dr. Mae Jemison became the first African American woman in space when she flew as a science mission specialist on the Space Shuttle Endeavor. A short while later she served as a Transporter Engineer on the Starship Enterprise. Guess which one I think is cooler?
SAGAL: Dr. Jemison, welcome to WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME.
DR. MAE JEMISON: Thank you.
SAGAL: Wow. So you have done a lot of remarkable things, a Stanford graduate, a medical doctor, a teacher, a professor at Dartmouth and an astronaut.
SAGAL: And we've read that you say two things got you into science, "Star Trek" and pus.
SAGAL: Could you explain the influence pus had on you?
JEMISON: Pus is one of the neatest things ever, right? When I was a little girl, I got a splinter stuck in my thumb and it got infected, pus came out of it. My mother told me to go look it up and then I found out it has all these really cool things in it. It's just the most fascinating thing that your body could do. It's the way around - that's the way we - I don't know, I thought it was cool.
SAGAL: I mean it's interesting that - were people's reaction to your fascination with pus to be like, wow, some day you're going to be an astronaut, or was it like you're an odd little girl?
JEMISON: Well, that wasn't the oddest thing I did. I mean, I made mud pies. I had the whole full science scope going. I had pus, mud pies, dance, you know...
SAGAL: Wait a minute. Oh yeah, it sounds like a typical girlhood, pus, mud pies, dance, sure.
SAGAL: And you were a big - well I don't know if I can use this word with somebody who was on People Magazine's 50 Most Beautiful People in the World, but a science fiction geek growing up.
JEMISON: I was a science fiction geek. That let's you know that they come in all sizes and styles, right.
SAGAL: Wow. So you liked "Star Trek" the original series was it?
JEMISON: I was the original series "Star Trek" fan, absolutely.
SAGAL: Yeah, right. So when you finally got into space on the Endeavor in 1992, were you disappointed in what it was actually like? I mean...
SAGAL: The doors don't go whoosh, and there's no cool cafeteria and there are few vulcans. I mean...
BRIAN BABYLON: No tribbles.
SAGAL: No tribbles.
JEMISON: No, no, no, it was very exciting, because first of all, you have an opportunity to see the earth and it's absolutely amazing. And I remember one time actually we flew through the Southern Lights. You know, they're like the Northern Lights. And they're these shimmering curtain of lights. So there's nothing that you could have ever seen in a science fiction movie that would even come close to seeing that in person.
JEMISON: Absolutely stunning. And for me, it was really a childhood dream coming true. It's sort of where the fantasy led reality and then I got to be on the Starship Enterprise anyway. And the cool thing was is I was the only person on this bridge who had actually been in space.
SAGAL: Well hang on. So the way it worked was you came down from orbit on the Endeavor and then they got in touch with you. They were producing "Star Trek the Next Generation," right?
SAGAL: And they got in touch with you and said would you like to come be in the crew here.
JEMISON: Asked me if I would consider doing an episode. Someone heard that I really liked "Star Trek" and they found out whether I'd be interested in doing an episode, and I said absolutely.
BABYLON: Hey, Mae, this is Brian Babylon.
BABYLON: First of all, I'm a very big fan. Thank you for talking to me.
BABYLON: I don't know, I'm a big trekkie too, but the first astronaut that I got caught up in was Major Anthony Nelson from "I Dream of Jeannie."
BABYLON: That was an astronaut, I mean how...
SAGAL: Square jawed.
JEMISON: I watched "I Dream of Jeannie" as well.
BABYLON: So, I mean how close - I know you didn't have a Jeannie, but was it sort of like that at all?
SAGAL: Did you have madcap adventures with your magical companion?
JEMISON: I could not tell you if I did.
SAGAL: I understand.
SAGAL: I can only imagine that you were - I mean, I would do this. If I was the only person who had ever actually been to space on the set of the "Star Trek" TV series, I'd be like, you know, in real space it wouldn't be like that at all.
SAGAL: Real space, you blew your nose, it would just float all around here. I would lord it over those actors like you wouldn't believe it. What'd you do?
JEMISON: I just wanted to meet Worf.
SAGAL: Oh, who doesn't?
SAGAL: He's awesome.
FAITH SALIE: So, Mae, when you were in space, how many days consecutively were you up there?
JEMISON: I was up eight days.
SALIE: And you are a dancer. Did you dance?
JEMISON: I absolutely did. The incredible thing about being in space is you have this incredible ability that you can keep spinning and spinning and you can - you know, it's really phenomenal.
BABYLON: Did you do the moonwalk?
BABYLON: I mean, you have to do the moonwalk.
JEMISON: You know, you can't. You have to actually be weighted to something to do the moonwalk, you know.
SAGAL: That's a problem.
SALIE: And in space, do astronauts really eat the freeze dried ice cream or is that just something they tell you when you go to the Smithsonian?
JEMISON: I think it sells things really well.
SAGAL: I understand. So you're telling me that Dippin Dots is not really the space age ice cream?
JEMISON: Well, Dippin Dots wasn't even around back then.
SAGAL: Oh, wow.
JEMISON: Yeah, no, no Dippin Dots, because you have to have a freezer. I think on the space station they have freezers and they have a little bit more different types of food than you carried up on the shuttle, but that's a lot of energy.
SAGAL: I mean, basically, if you've seen all these science fiction movies, and "Star Trek," it's just cool, you're flying around everywhere. In "2001," it's sort of beautiful and graceful until the computer tries to kill you. I'm imagining that in real life it's a lot more mundane up there. What's like the most uncomfortable thing about being in space?
JEMISON: Laying on your back on the launch pad and having to use your diaper.
SAGAL: Oh yeah, we heard about the diapers when that lady drove across the country and didn't want to stop.
SAGAL: I remember the diaper. So talk to me about this project you're working on which is the 100 Year Starship. This is an organization trying to point the way towards long distance space travel.
JEMISON: Very seriously. One Hundred Year Starship really is about the idea that is we pursue an extraordinary tomorrow; we'll build a better world today.
So, all the things that we need to do a successful interstellar mission are the things that we need to live successfully here on earth. So we talk about energy. We can talk about recycling, closed environmental life support systems. But there's one thing I want to bring up that sometimes people don't think about when you think about space.
JEMISON: And that's how we interact with one another.
SAGAL: Oh, sure.
JEMISON: So imagine being with your panel for 100 years on a ship.
CHARLIE PIERCE: Excuse me?
SAGAL: Yeah, right.
SALIE: I'd be pretty popular.
SAGAL: I don't know. After 100 years, you'd all look pretty attractive to me.
SAGAL: Isn't it true - I read about this that they're thinking about missions to Mars now, and they think we might be able to get people to Mars but we couldn't get them back. So you need to find people who are willing to go and never come back. Is that true?
JEMISON: I'm sure there are people who want to do that. I'm not sure they're people that we would volunteer.
SAGAL: Yeah, I know.
SAGAL: I'm sure, yes, exactly. I have a job for you, my friend.
SAGAL: Well, Dr. Mae Jemison, we're delighted to talk to you, and we've asked you here to play a game we're calling?
CARL KASELL: Excuse me? When do we get to the Southwest Terminal?
SAGAL: You've flown in the space shuttle, so we thought we'd ask you three questions about a sometimes more unpredictable vehicle, the airport shuttle.
SAGAL: Answer two of these questions correctly; you'll win our prize for one our listeners, Carl's voice on their home answering machine. Carl, who is Dr. Jemison playing for?
KASELL: She's playing for Abby Zinberg of Northbrook, Illinois.
SAGAL: Ready to go?
JEMISON: I'm ready to go.
SAGAL: Here's your first question. At the Dusseldorf Airport in Germany, a family called for the shuttle to take them back to their car and got a surprise. Was it A: the driver was infamous terrorist Carlos the Jackal, working his day job?
SAGAL: B: the shuttle was their own car, with shuttle company signs pasted onto it? Or C: the driver then followed a malfunctioning GPS and drove them all the way to Paris?
JEMISON: I'm going to go with C.
SAGAL: You're going to go with C.
JEMISON: The malfunctioning GPS.
SAGAL: So they're in Dusseldorf, Germany and say three hours later, they're like "did we park this far away?"
JEMISON: Yes, that's where I'm going because you know people sort of look at that GPS and they keep going because they're sure it's correct.
SAGAL: Yeah, how could it lie to you? It's a computer, right?
JEMISON: Exactly. It's a computer; it doesn't lie.
SAGAL: Well, no, in this case the answer was B. While they were away, the shuttle company took their car, put magnetized shuttle company signs on it and used it as a shuttle.
SAGAL: And the shuttle company said, oh, no, this was just a mistake we made today. But it turns out it had 400 kilometers extra on it. So, no, they had been doing it. All right, you still have two more chances, not a problem for someone of your abilities.
JEMISON: OK. All right.
SAGAL: Last year, also, a shuttle bus was the scene of a strange crime in Barcelona, Spain. What happened? A: the shuttle was used as a getaway car after a robbery? B: the driver of the shuttle bus set up a small brothel with velvet curtains and satin sheets in the back of the bus?
SAGAL: Or C: a thief hid in a suitcase and rifled through the other suitcases while the bus was in motion?
JEMISON: A brothel, a thief going through suitcase and the first one?
SAGAL: Used as a getaway car, I believe after the robbery of an ice cream stand.
JEMISON: I'm going with C again.
SAGAL: C again, the thief hid in the suitcase.
JEMISON: The thief in the suitcase.
SAGAL: You're right, that's what happened.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
SAGAL: We covered it on the show when it did.
BABYLON: Was it a dwarf?
SAGAL: A guy packs his friend into a suitcase, puts it in the luggage compartment. They get on the shuttle bus. While they're driving, the guy gets out of the luggage, rifles through the other luggage and steals stuff. And he was caught because as the trip ended, other passengers saw this guy talking to his own luggage, like "how'd it go?" And so they figured out something was up.
SAGAL: All right, this is great, Doctor...
JEMISON: I got a chance.
SAGAL: You have one more chance. You can do it. In 1995, in Rhode Island, a woman with no criminal record stole an airport shuttle and tried to drive it down the highway. What reason did she give?
A: she saw the words "park and fly" on it and thought it was a really valuable flying car? B: she thought the vehicle was quote "dead sexy"? Or C: she had a fight with her husband while visiting the in-laws and really wanted to go home?
JEMISON: You know, let's just stay with C, because, you know, when you have that fight with the in-laws and the husband, you just really want to leave.
SAGAL: You know you're right, and you are.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
SAGAL: That was an answer that sounded from some experience. She was visiting her in-laws with her family. She had a huge fight with her husband. She's like that's it; I'm going home. She goes to the airport. They say I'm sorry; we have no flights back to Michigan. She goes fine, jumps in an airport shuttle and takes out for the territories.
SAGAL: They caught her in a few miles.
Carl, how did Dr. Mae Jemison do on our quiz?
KASELL: Dr. Jemison, you had two correct answers, and that wins for Abby Zinberg. Congratulations.
SAGAL: Well done.
PIERCE: That's great, Peter, because I had 40 quatloos on that.
SAGAL: Oh that's great. Dr. Mae Jemison was a science officer in NASA's Endeavor mission. Today, she leads the 100 Year Starship. Dr. Jemison, thank you so much for joining us today, great to talk to you.
JEMISON: I had a great time.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.