Geek Trivia: Where no (space)man has gone before

Who is the only real-life astronaut ever to be cast in a Star Trek series, a wholly separate accomplishment from the fictional astronauts or historical spacefarers shown in stock footage or played by other actors during the Trek franchise's four-decade run?

Who is the only real-life astronaut ever to be cast in a Star Trek series, a wholly separate accomplishment from the fictional astronauts or historical spacefarers shown in stock footage or played by other actors during the Trek franchise's four-decade run?

Dr. Mae Carol Jemison is the astronaut in question. She flew aboard the space shuttle Endeavour as a mission specialist on STS-42 in September of 1992. She also briefly appeared as Lt. Palmer in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Second Chances," which first aired on May 22, 1993. (Trekkers may remember it as the episode where Commander Riker met his transporter twin, Lt. Riker.)

Dr. Jemison found her way onto the show through LeVar (Geordi La Forge) Burton, who through mutual acquaintances learned that Jemison was a serious Trekkie, and had pursued her NASA career in part because she identified with Lt. Uhura from the original Star Trek. This is a significant parallel, as Jemison was the first African-American woman to fly in space, effectively becoming the first real-life analog to Lt. Uhura, as originally played by African-American actress Nichelle Nichols.

Jemison's Trek synchronicity doesn't end there. While obtaining her medical degree from Cornell University, Jemison also studied jazz, African, and modern dance at the legendary Alvin Ailey school. Dr. Beverly Crusher, the chief medical officer on The Next Generation, was known as the "Dancing Doctor" thanks to her prowess both in sickbay and on the dance floor. (Crusher's jazz and tap skills were revealed in the NextGen episode "Data's Day," which first aired in 1991.)

Meanwhile, Jemison's biography reads like that of a Starfleet applicant. She graduated from high school at 16 and entered Stanford University, where she simultaneously earned a BS in chemical engineering and a BA in African and Afro-American studies. From there it was on to Cornell, where Jemison completed her aforementioned medical studies. Jemison did her medical internship at USC Medical Center in Los Angeles and then joined the Peace Corps, working in Liberia and Sierra Leone. While in the Peace Corps, Jemison commandeered a U.S. Air Force plane to evacuate a meningitis-stricken volunteer to Germany, despite not having any authority to do so.

When Jemison returned from the Peace Corps, she immediately began taking graduate engineer courses for the express purpose of applying to the NASA astronaut corps. She was part of the first class of astronauts accepted after the 1986 Challenger disaster -- effectively, the group expected to save NASA from its darkest hour since the Apollo 1 fire. Her glass ceiling-smashing flight helped accomplish just that.

Today, Jemison runs a private technology consulting group, choreographs dance projects out of her home studio, serves as a professor for Cornell and Dartmouth Universities, raises money for charity, and makes for some fact-over-fictionally fantastic Geek Trivia.

The Quibble of the Week

This week's quibble is breaking the rules because it's an invitation for some collaborative elaboration. But, as always, if you uncover a questionable fact or debatable aspect of this week's Geek Trivia, just post it in the discussion area of the article and it too will be considered for future call outs within the friendly confines of Geek Trivia. Thanks for the quibbles and counter-quibbles, and keep 'em coming!

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