The mutual love affair between America’s true-life NASA space program and the fictional Starfleet of Star Trek was never more evident than when Mae Jemison, a onetime space shuttle veteran and the first female black astronaut in space, appeared in a speaking role in TNG’s “Second Chances.” No active U.S. astronaut is allowed to appear in such private productions, but Jemison—a veteran of a 1992 Endeavour shuttle flight as a science mission specialist—appeared as Lieutenant Palmer in 1993, soon after leaving NASA after seven years as an active-duty astronaut.

After the publicity surrounding her flight, LeVar “Geordi” Burton realized he and Jemison had a mutual friend who told him of the astronaut’s love of the show and being inspired by Nichelle “Uhura” Nichols as a young girl. He urged her to come on for teh appearance

The Decatur, Ala. native, born in 1962, loved the arts and had done acting in high school and college after aspirations to be a dancer didn't turn out as she grew up in Chicago. Instead, she entered Stanford University at age 16 for a degree in chemical engineering—another field to pioneer as an African –American woman—but never strayed far from the arts. She received her medical degree from Cornell in 1981, spent two years in the Peace Corps, and applied for the astronaut corps after Sally Ride’s historic "first woman" shuttle flight in 1983—joining in the first class accepted after the 1986 Challenger disaster.

Today, her Jemison Group researches, markets and develops science and technology for daily life, and her BioSentient Corp focuses on harnessing space science research in medical applications and devices. Her public speaking and charity work is likewise aimed at promoting science and technology, and inspiring young people, especially minorities. She remains a professor-at-large at Cornell, and also speaks out on global development issues.