The Cherwell Global Conference theme this year is “Lead the Change,” and its keynote speaker Wednesday has done exactly that.

Dr. cq, she’s an M.D.Mae Jemison became the first African-American woman in space when she blasted off with space shuttle Endeavor in 1992. Jemison, who spent six years as a NASA astronaut, said her goal wasn’t to be the first of anything; it was to go into space.

She’s still leading the change as principal of 100 Year Starship, a project to make interstellar travel a reality within the next century.

Engineers, scientists and the like have the information and data to make this happen, Jemison told the 1,000 or so people gathered at The Broadmoor for the sixth annual Cherwell conference, which brings together Cherwell customers, business partners and employees. But the public hasn’t provided enough commitment or appreciation, she said.

Data doesn’t equal information, information doesn’t equal knowledge, and knowledge doesn’t equal wisdom, Jemison said. Her goal through this project is to transform knowledge into telling a different story about space exploration.

Every goal comes with challenges, Jemison said, but the greatest challenges are the ones within ourselves. She said she had a fear of heights when she was training at NASA. During parachute training, she said, she asked herself: “Am I going to be afraid of heights, or am I going to be an astronaut?”

The challenges in 100 Year Starship include complex but critical focuses on time and distance to get to another star system while maintaining a sustainable ecosystem, understanding the effects of weightlessness on the human body and conquering obstacles that haven’t even been identified yet. The 100 Year Starship team is looking into solutions using nuclear power, chemical rockets, warp drive and wormholes to generate rapid travel.

Jemison is initiating the project Look Up in October, which asks everyone worldwide to look at the sky during the same 24-hour period to recognize that we share not only the same origin, but also the same sky. The project will represent “a day for us to take a moment and join the world in a mutual reminder to continue embracing a future of possibilities among the sky.”

Says the 100 Year Starship website: “The concept of humans traveling to other star systems may appear fantastical, but no more so than the fantasy of reaching the Moon was in the days of H. G. Wells. “The First Men in the Moon” was published considerably less than 100 years before humans landed on the Moon (1901 vs. 1969), and the rapidity of scientific and technological advances was not nearly as great as it is today.

“The truth is that the best ideas sound crazy at first. And then there comes a time when we can’t imagine a world without them.”

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