Aroostook County native Jessica Meir made history on Wednesday when she became the first Maine woman to journey into space.
Mainers from across the state tuned in at 9:57 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time to watch as the boosters of the Soyuz MS-15 spacecraft lighted up the darkening sky over the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, where the first human ever to journey into space, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, took off 58 years ago.
The spacecraft carried Meir, Russian cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka and Emirati astronaut Hazz Al Mansouri beyond Earth’s atmosphere on their six-hour journey to the International Space Station, some 220 miles above the planet. The Soyuz entered orbit about 10:08 a.m., and it circled the planet four times before docking at the space station at 3:45 p.m. EDT, according to NASA. Their arrival will bring the space station’s population to nine.
Meir will spend six months aboard the International Space Station, where she and her fellow space travelers will support about 250 experiments that NASA says aren’t possible here on Earth and may even prove crucial to enable deep space missions to the moon and Mars.
Wednesday’s launch marked the culmination of years of training and the realization of Meir’s childhood dream to go into outer space. Mainers across the state joined in celebrating Meir’s accomplishment.
“Today, @Astro_Jessica will not only fulfill her lifelong dream of going to space, but will make history as the first woman from Maine to reach orbit. Jessica is from my hometown of Caribou, and the city, The County, and the entire state are so proud of her accomplishment,” U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican from Caribou, said in a Wednesday morning tweet.
“Jessica Meir is an inspiration – she spent years pursuing her dream of becoming an astronaut, and this morning she gets to live it. @Astro_Jessica, congrats on your first journey into space!” Maine’s junior U.S. senator, independent Angus King, said in a tweet shortly before the launch.
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. NASA announced in April 2019 that Meir would make her first space flight in September.
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.
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.
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. 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.”
Travis Barnes, principal of Caribou High School, said Regional School Unit 39 will host a month-long celebration of Meir’s space flight, including an Oct. 29 event when students and community members at the Caribou Performing Arts Center and other locations across the city will talk to her live from the space station.
“In the Caribou High School Class of 1995 yearbook, Dr. Meir’s future goal was listed as ‘to go for a space walk,’” Barnes said Wednesday. “Our team wants to show students and community members that they too can achieve their goals and dreams with hard work, education and vision.”
Meir is among at least three Maine natives who have made the extraordinary journey into space, 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.