Students are often encouraged, as they should be, to test their limits and reach for the stars. NASA Astronaut and Caribou native Jessica Meir seems to have taken that sort of advice quite literally.
On Wednesday, Meir became the first Maine woman to travel to space when the Soyuz MS-15 spacecraft launched from Kazakhstan and circled Earth four times before sojourning to the international space stations some 220 miles above the planet. The six hour trip, only slightly longer than the time it takes to drive from Caribou to Kittery, is an astronomically impressive achievement for Meir, who is fulfilling her dream to walk in space.
“In the Caribou High School Class of 1995 yearbook, Dr. Meir’s future goal was listed as ‘to go for a space walk,’” current Caribou High School Principal Travis 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.”
According to local school and town officials, Caribou students will be able to chat live with Meir from the space station on Oct. 29. This will be an invaluable learning opportunity for Caribou’s next generation of dreamers, who Maine and the world will need to dare to do what seems unlikely or even impossible.
Meir previously spoke with Caribou students in 2016, and emphasized the importance of not giving up in the face of adversity. While she was selected among more than 6,000 applicants for NASA’s 21 class of astronauts in 2013, she had first applied and been rejected four years earlier.
“At that point, I could have easily given up and decided not to apply again because I didn’t want to get rejected again. The entire process of applying and interviewing is really lengthy and consuming, mentally and psychologically, and at the time I honestly thought it would be the same result.” Meir told students three years ago. “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.”
Now the dream is real, and for the next six months in space, she is part of a team that will conduct over 250 experiments that, according to NASA, aren’t possible here on Earth. The astronauts will also venture outside the station on spacewalks to work on equipment used to shine more light on how we understand dark matter and study the origins of the universe. How cool is that?
“I think what I’m looking forward to the most is, as a scientist, understanding more about all of these different effects of microgravity in the spaceflight environment, and participating as both an operator and a subject for a wide variety of investigations,” she told Space.com before the mission. “I’m also really looking forward to the potential to do a spacewalk since that’s really what I’ve always envisioned myself doing really my whole life.”
Meir is the first Maine woman, and at least the third Maine native, to travel to space. Space.com asked her if she would like to be the first woman on the moon.
“I would absolutely love to be the first woman on the moon. That would be my ideal mission,” she responded. “It is time for us to go back to the moon, and I think that we will be able to do that in the near future and I would love to be the one on that mission.”
So even when one dream is realized, Meir proves there is always more to explore.
Meir’s experience can inspire young Maine women and men to follow their own passions and dreams, and to redefine what people view as achievable. We hope students in Caribou and around the state will notice the contagious excitement that Meir radiated when the hatch opened and she entered the international space station for the first time. It was a moment of great accomplishment, of joy, and of persistence rewarded.
“It’s a little bit hard to believe that we’re here. It actually felt a lot like being in the simulator, until things started moving,” she said in a NASA video shortly after arriving at the space station. “And then, we started noticing the view. And it’s interesting, because we were pretty busy, so it’s easy to just get in the moment and forget exactly what we’re doing until we looked out the window… It’s pretty surreal to be here now, but we feel great.”