Women physician astronauts-exploring health in space

Perhaps one of her favorite “honors” was appearing in an episode of Star Trek. Dr. Jemison became the first real astronaut to be in Star Trek: The Next Generation. She played Lieutenant Palmer in the episode, “Second Chances.”

Independence, a space shuttle replica, on display at NASA in Houston, TX

Why celebrate women physicians?

In 1860 the United States had 200 women physicians.

By 1900, there were 7000.

Since 1975, the number of female physicians has increased from 35,626 to 369,540 in 2020. Women physicians comprise 36% of actively practicing physicians.

And no longer the minority

In 2018, for the first time since Elizabeth Blackwell entered medical school in 1849,the first woman to do so, more women than men entered U.S. medical schools and half of all medical students are female. This trend will likely continue, as fewer men are applying to medical school and more women are.

September- Women in Medicine Month

We recognize, honor, and appreciate all women physicians in September every year. But a few have gone “above and beyond” in service to country and healthcare. One has even “sacrificed her life for space research.” Here are stories about some of them

Dr. Margaret Rhea Seddon

When she graduated from the University of Tennessee Medical School in 1973, Margaret Rhea Seddon was one of few women. She was the only woman in her surgical residency in Memphis. She also earned a pilot’s license.

While in college, she watched the Apollo 11 moon landing , which sparked her interest in space. In 1978, NASA chose her to be among the first class of six female Astronaut candidates.

Dr. Seddon served 30 days in space total on three separate missions.

  • Discovery, STS-51D, 1985
  • Columbia, STS-40, Spacelab Life Sciences in 1991
  • Columbia, STS-58, Spacelab Life Sciences-2, 1993

On the first two missions, Dr. Seddon served as Mission Specialist, and as Payload Commander in charge of life science research on the last.

After 19 years at NASA, she served as Assistant Chief Medical Officer for Vanderbilt Medical Group in Nashville. She founded Lifewing Partners which teaches aviation-based healthcare.

Dr.Seddon’s honors include induction into the Tennessee Aviation Hall of Fame, The Tennessee Women’s Hall of Fame, and the Astronaut Hall of Fame.

Dr. Seddon and her astronaut husband Robert L. Gibson have four children and three grandchildren. She belongs to the DAR, Daughters of the American Revolution, which recently honored her in their monthly newsletter (and from which I prepared this bio of her. )

The crew assigned to the STS-51D mission included (front left to right) Karol J. Bobko, commander; Donald E. Williams, pilot; M. Rhea Seddon, mission specialist; and Jeffrey A. Hoffman, mission specialist. On the back row, left to right, are S. David Griggs, mission specialist; and payload specialists Charles D. Walker, and E. Jake Garn (Republican Utah Senator). Launched aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery on April 12, 1985 at 8:59:05 am (EST), the STS-51D mission’s primary payloads were the TELESAT-1 (ANIK-C) communications satellite and the SYNCOM IV-3 (also known as LEASAT-3).

Dr. Mae Jemison

While an undergraduate at Stanford University in California, Mae Jemison felt and fought racial injustice, serving as President of the Black Student Union. She went on to earn a Doctorate of Medicine at Cornell University in 1981. She served in the Peace Corps as a Medical Officer in Africa, and then started a private medical practice.

As a child she was intrigued by the Space Program and wondered why there were no women astronauts. However, she was inspired by a fictional female astronaut played by African American actress Nichelle Nichols, Lieutenant Uhura on the Star Trek television show.

When Sally Ride became the first American woman in space in 1983, Dr. Jemison applied to the astronaut program at NASA in 1985. Due to the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986, NASA took a break from accepting new people. She applied again in 1987 and was one of 15 people chosen out of 2,000 applications.

On September 12, 1992, Dr. Jemison and six other astronauts flew into space on the the space shuttle Endeavor, making her the first African American women in space. The crew flew 127 orbits around the Earth and returned to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on September 20, 1992.

Dr. Jemison left NASA in 1993 after serving as an astronaut for six years . She started The Jemison Group, a consulting company that encourages science, technology, and social change. She also began teaching environmental studies at Dartmouth College and directed the Jemison Institute for Advancing Technology in Developing Countries.

Dr. Jemison is leading the 100 Year Starship project through the United States Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). This project works to make sure human space travel to another star is possible within the next 100 years. She also serves on the Board of Directors for many organizations including; the Kimberly-Clark Corp., Scholastic, Inc., Valspar Corp., Morehouse College, Texas Medical Center, Texas State Product Development and Small Business Incubator, Greater Houston Partnership Disaster Planning and Recovery Task Force, and the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering.

Dr.Jemison has been inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame, National Medical Association Hall of Fame and Texas Science Hall of Fame.

Perhaps one of her favorite “honors” was appearing in an episode of Star Trek. Dr. Jemison became the first real astronaut to be in Star Trek: The Next Generation. She played Lieutenant Palmer in the episode, “Second Chances.”

taken from a bio of Dr. Jemison by Kerri Lee Alexander, NWHM Fellow | 2018-2019
92-44303 — STS-47 Endeavour, Orbiter Vehicle (OV) 105, crew members and back-up payload specialists, wearing clean suits, pose for a group portrait in the Spacelab Japan (SLJ) module. The team is at the Kennedy Space Center’s (KSC’s) Orbiter Processing Facility (OPF) to inspect SLJ configuration and OV-105 preparations. Kneeling, from left, are back-up Payload Specialist Chiaki Naito-Mukai; Mission Specialist N. Jan Davis; and backup Payload Specialist Takao Doi. Standing, from the left, are Pilot Curtis L. Brown,Jr; Payload Commander Mark C. Lee; Jerome Apt; Payload Specialist Mamoru Mohri; Commander Robert L. Gibson; Mae C. Jemison; and back-up Payload Specialist Stanely L. Koszelak. Mohri, Mukai, and Doi represent the National Space Development Agency of Japan (NASDA). View provided by KSC with alternate KSC number KSC-92PC-1647. Photo credit: NASA
Independence, a space shuttle replica, on display at NASA in Houston, TX
The space shuttle replica Independence on display at Space Center Houston; photo by Raymond Oglesby during our visit to the center a few years ago

Dr. Laurel Salton Clark

Dr. Laurel Clark served her country as a flight surgeon with the U.S. Navy. She along with her husband Dr. Jonathon Clark joined NASA as astronauts.

Dr. Clark made her first space flight on Space Shuttle Columbia during STS-107 as a mission specialist. The extended-duration mission was dedicated to scientific research. The STS-107 crew successfully conducted more than 80 experiments.

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FLA. – STS-107 Mission Specialist Laurel Clark is helped with her helmet during suitup for launch. STS-107 is a mission devoted to research and will include more than 80 experiments that will study Earth and space science, advanced technology development, and astronaut health and safety. The payload on Space Shuttle Columbia includes FREESTAR (Fast Reaction Experiments Enabling Science, Technology, Applications and Research) and the SHI Research Double Module (SHI/RDM), known as SPACEHAB. Experiments on the module range from material sciences to life sciences. Liftoff is scheduled for 10:39 a.m. EST. credit NASA

On February 1, 2003  Clark and the STS-107 crew perished during re-entry as Columbia broke up over Texas en route to a landing in Florida. She amassed 15 days, 22 hours and 20 minutes in space.

At SPACEHAB in Cape Canaveral, Fla., STS-107 Mission Specialist Laurel Clark becomes familiar with equipment for the mission. STS-107 is a research mission, and the primary payload is the first flight of the SHI Research Double Module (SHI/RDM). The experiments range from material sciences to life sciences (many rats). Among the experiments is a Hitchhiker carrier system, modular and expandable in accordance with payload requirements. STS-107 is scheduled to launch in June 2002; credit NASA

During a memorial service at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, on Feb. 4, 2003, President George W. Bush emphasized Clark’s love for her family and her work.

“Laurel Salton Clark was a physician and a flight surgeon who loved adventure, loved her work, loved her husband and her son,” he said.
A friend who heard Laurel speaking to Mission Control said there was a smile in her voice. Laurel conducted some of the experiments as Columbia orbited the Earth and described seeing new life emerged from a tiny cocoon. ‘Life,’ she said, ‘continues in a lot of places and life is a magical thing.'”

In this emotional interview, Dr. Jonathon Clark remembers his wife, who “sacrificed her life for space research.”

Dr. Jonathan Clark reflects on his late wife Dr. Laurel Clark

exploring the HEARTS of women in medicine and space

How people flew to the moon-exploring the HEART of health in space

Human bodies are designed for Earth, not outer space, so taking them into space and bringing them back safely was a monumental task and grave responsibility. And it was not accomplished perfectly-early on in 1967 the Apollo 1 spacecraft cabin caught fire and claimed the lives of three astronauts.

Author: Aletha Cress Oglesby, M.D.

As a family physician, I explore the HEART of HEALTH in my work, recreation, community, and through writing. My blog, Watercress Words, informs and inspires us to live in health. I believe we can turn our health challenges into healthy opportunities. When we do, we can share the HEART of health with our families, communities, and the world. Come explore and share with me.

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