05/03/1993 at 01:00 AM EDT
Are those stars twinkling in Mae Jemison's brown eyes? Could be. She did, after all, come within kissing distance of the celestial spheres as one of seven astronauts on last year's shuttle Endeavor and the first black woman in space. "The earth was gorgeous," she recalls. "There was a blue iridescent glow about the planet that was tremendous." Though unimpressed by earthly beauty ("I don't put a lot of stock in how people look"), her longtime friend Nichelle Nichols, who, as Lieutenant Uhura on the original Star Trek series, inspired young Jemison's extraterrestrial longings, finds her asteroidally arresting. "She's startling, absolutely dynamic," says Nichols. "Her eyes bore straight through you to the truth."
Jemison, 36, has long strived to go where few have gone before. Reared in Chicago, the youngest of three children of a teacher and a maintenance supervisor, she earned her chemical engineering degree at Stanford and her M.D. at Cornell. After 2½ years as a Peace Corps doctor in Africa and two years in private practice in L.A., she was accepted in NASA's training program in 1987, one of 15 chosen from nearly 2,000 applicants. Her mission now accomplished, Jemison quit NASA last March and plans to launch a company that will help bring advanced technology to underdeveloped countries. But even the full-blast, unmarried Houstonite needs to fire her retro-rockets occasionally. In late May she'll make a cameo appearance on Star Trek: The Next Generation, which is right in character. "Life is what your creator gave you for free," Jemison has said. "Style is what you do with it."