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Keynote Speaker: Reaching for the Stars

D2-JemesonSince she was a child, Mae C. Jemison, MD, has endeavored to reach lofty goals, and it is no surprise that today she is leading an effort that reaches for the stars. The 100-Year Starship, an independent, long-term international initiative, seeks to ensure that the capabilities for human interstellar travel beyond our solar system to another star exist within the next 100 years.

The Sunday Opening Ceremony keynote speaker recalled growing up on the south side of Chicago in the 1960s amid the civil rights movement, assassination of Martin Luther King, and the Democratic National Convention riots in the city.

“I had this background where everything was happening, but it seemed like our potential was limitless. I wanted to consider the extraordinary…” Dr. Jemison said. “The ’60s left me with this idea that I wanted to go into space, and I want to be a part of making the world successful.”

Indeed, in 1992, she became the first woman of color in the world to go into space when she flew on the Space Shuttle Endeavor for a cooperative mission between the United States and Japan. In this mission, she was NASA’s first science mission specialist, performing experiments in material science, life science and human adaptation to weightlessness.

Pointing to the 100YSS, which was initially funded by the U.S. Department of Defense’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, she called on attendees to think beyond the images of NASA shuttles being chemically propelled into space. Earth’s closest neighboring star is Alpha Centauri, which is 4.2 light years away.

“I want us to consider the extraordinary because pursuing the extraordinary for tomorrow is what pushes us to achieve more today,” Dr. Jemison said. “We want to build a global community that is about radical leaps in innovation and thinking about the world in a different way.”

“This mission to achieve interstellar flight within next 100 years really is a journey designed to enhance life here on earth. What we are actually looking for is something Eugene Cernan said, we went to explore the moon, and in fact discovered the earth.”

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