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Former astronaut to speak at Clarkson University

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POTSDAM — Dr. Mae C. Jemison, who in 1992 became the first black woman in space, has little patience for those who say everything always works out for the best. People must take action to shape their own future, and the future of the world, she said.

Dr. Jemison will share this message of dedication and responsibility when she visits Clarkson University on Monday night.

She espouses one of her favorite quotes, from writers William and Ariel Durant:

“The future never just happened. It was created.”

Dr. Jemison hopes to have a hand in creating a better future with her leadership of the 100 Year Starship, a collaborative research project to design a spacecraft within the next 100 years capable of transporting humans to another solar system, light years away.

“We have to find our role in things and take our place in the world,” Dr. Jemison said.

She offers a perfunctory description of her six years at NASA, and her eight days in space, as an important part of her life, but not a climactic one.

“I was thrilled. I was excited. I was very pleased, and very comfortable. There were great views, and I was very busy,” she said of her time aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour.

Her life before and after NASA was just as important in creating the person she is today, she said, and she is not done yet.

“I am shaped just as much by the time I spent in West Africa,” she said.

Dr. Jemison traveled to Africa from 1983 to 1985 while serving as a doctor for the Peace Corps.

She joined NASA in 1987 and resigned in 1993 to pursue her goals of teaching and continuing her research.

100 Year Starship, which is funded by the federal Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, is not really about reaching another star, she said. Its true goal is spurring the massive leaps in scientific understanding such a project would require.

“I invite people to join. It’s not just about rocket scientists and billionaires,” she said.

Dr. Jemison encourages research that spans disciplines, rather than pigeonholing work into a single topic.

“The world isn’t split up into these small little pieces,” she said.

Curing diseases or changing the environment are not just scientific problems, she said.

“Those externalities aren’t just chemistry. They are political decisions, they are decisions around culture, they’re decisions about what people aspire to.”

She advocates the collaboration not only between different branches of science, but also between science and the liberal arts.

“You really need to have a broad educational base,” she said.

She does not yet know whether Earth is in for a bright future, but she does know it is up to its inhabitants to describe it.

“I’m a short-term pessimist and a long-term optimist, but I do know it’s not going to just happen,” she said.

Dr. Jemison will speak at 7 p.m. Monday at Clarkson’s Cheel Arena. Tickets are still available for $10 ($5 for those 17 and younger) at clarksonathletics.com or at the arena box office, which is open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday. Tickets also will be sold at the event if seats are still available.

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