NASA astronaut Jessica Meir trains inside the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. She has been assigned to her first spaceflight, and will launch to the International Space Station in September 2019. Credit: NASA

Nearly six years after she joined the elite ranks of American astronauts, a Caribou native will finally realize her dream to look down on this little blue ball we all call home.

Jessica Meir, 40, will soar some 220 miles above the Earth to the International Space Station on Sept. 25 with Russian cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka and Emirati astronaut Hazz Al Mansouri, NASA announced Wednesday morning. It will mark her first spaceflight. She will return to Earth in spring 2020.

Meir, the valedictorian of Caribou High School’s Class of 1995, was among three women and four men selected from 6,100 applicants in 2013 for NASA’s 21st class of astronauts and to begin training for future space flights. That came only four years after Meir first applied but was rejected for NASA’s 20th class of astronauts.

“It didn’t work out for me that time,” Meir told students at Caribou High School in 2016. “I was told that I did a great job and that I didn’t do anything wrong, but I wasn’t selected. At that point, I could have easily given up and decided not to apply again because I didn’t want to get rejected again. …

“Luckily, I stuck to it and persevered. Just in the back of my head, knowing that it was the dream I’ve had for my entire life, I couldn’t not apply. I just wasn’t prepared to give up on it yet.”

In many ways, Meir selection to join the space program began very early in her life. Meir participated in the space camp at Purdue University in Indiana before starting her freshman year at Caribou High School, and she also took part in a six-week summer camp at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida between her sophomore and junior years at Brown University in Rhode Island.

“I have been very interested in science from a young age,” Meir told the BDN in 2013. “I was mostly interested in biology and physiology and always interested in space flight, so I involved myself in as many space-related activities as I could.”

Credit: V. Crobu | ESA

Meir has a degree in biology from Brown University, a master’s in space studies from the International Space University in Illkirch, France, and a Ph.D. in marine biology from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, according to NASA.

In her research, she has spent time in the Aquarius underwater habitat off Key Largo, Florida, traveled to Antarctica to study emperor penguins’ adaptations to long underwater dives and even raised a flock of high-altitude flying geese to determine how the birds are able to withstand the physiological pressures of flight patterns taking them up and over the Himalayas.

Meir previously worked for Lockheed Martin’s Human Research Facility, participated in reduced gravity research flights, took part in diving expeditions to the Antarctic and Belize, and served as a spaceflight analog crewmember for a NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations underwater mission and an European Space Agency caving mission, according to NASA.

Credit: Bill Stafford | NASA

Although she has not yet left Earth’s atmosphere, Meir’s spacewalk training at the Neutral Buoyancy Lab at the Johnson Space Center in Texas has given her a preview. As part of that training, Meir donned a 350-pound pressurized space suit before being lowered into a 40-foot-deep pool to work on a life-sized replica of a part of the space station.

“It’s definitely the most challenging thing we do, but it is also the most rewarding,” she told the BDN in 2017 when discussing her monthly sessions in the buoyancy lab. “We practice in the pool for things we might later do on the space station.”

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Meir is one of Caribou High School’s most distinguished graduates, along with Gregory H. Johnson, a four star Navy admiral; Olof Pierson, who is credited with inventing frozen french fries; and Susan Collins, a Republican who represents Maine in the U.S. Senate. In 2016, Meir was inducted into the high school’s Alumni Hall of Fame, according to the Aroostook Republican & News.

When she talked to students at the school in 2016, Meir urged them to keep expanding their outlook and perception as they work toward any dream, much like she did in the years before she joined the space program.

“Here we are up in Caribou, which is my home as well as yours, but when you think about your home, you usually think about your house, your neighborhood, and your family, and when you look at this fragile blue ball from outer space, that’s home too. It’s everybody’s home,” she said. “For me, that’s always been my dream: being in space and seeing this giant blue ball below me.”

Meir is among at least three Maine natives to become astronauts, the others being Christopher Cassidy, a York High School graduate who has completed six spacewalks and served as the nation’s chief astronaut from 2013 to 2017, and Charles O. Hobaugh, a Bar Harbor native who has made three spaceflights. Bridget Ziegelaar, a graduate of Old Town High School, is an operations manager for International Space Station Research Integration at NASA.