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There are nearly 8 billion people on the planet. Only six people are currently in space. Two of them are from Maine.
Jessica Meir, who grew up in Caribou, and Christopher Cassidy, a York native, are both currently aboard the International Space Station.
Ingenuity, dedication, resilience, a commitment to service and sacrifice have surely helped launch these two astronauts from different corners of Maine to innovative work among the stars. Those qualities will also help the rest of us deal with the current situation here on earth.
“For us, adapting to change and unanticipated obstacles that we might encounter is really just a part of our everyday job. And that’s one of the things that we do, and try to select astronauts for and prepare astronauts for,” Meir said during an April 10 livestream with the three U.S. astronauts currently at the space station. “I think the same now goes as a big challenge to all of those down on earth, to try to rise out of this from the other side — bringing something positive and taking something positive away from it.”
Meir is right — just as adaptability helps make a good astronaut, it is similarly valuable in responding to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. It’s easy for the onslaught of worrying news to feel like an inescapable black hole, swallowing the light around us. But light remains, in part because of how people are adapting and innovating while facing a crisis.
“It is certainly a challenging thing to do, but I know that some of the positive stories that we have seen, from some of the heroes on the front lines for example, and some of the connections that people are having, are really bringing some of that to light, ” Meir continued.
That spirit has already been on display here in Maine, where some businesses have shifted their production to new and much-needed items like face masks and other personal protective equipment — and where individuals across the state are meeting new challenges with ingenuity and compassion for others.
Meir is set to end her first space mission and return to earth on Friday after nearly seven months on the space station. Cassidy just arrived on April 9, and this is his third time in space. They are together on the station with one other American and three Russian cosmonauts.
“This mission, it does feel different.” Cassidy said during the livestream. “We knew as a crew that we were going to be in quarantine about nine months or a year ago, those exact weeks. But we didn’t know the whole world was going to join us.”
Meir was asked about what she’s looking forward to when she returns back to the planet, and what she’s concerned about given that the world has changed drastically since she left in September.
“I think that I will actually feel more isolated on the earth that I did up here, just because that’s part of our expected routine up here, and we’re so busy with so many other amazing pursuits and we have this incredible vantage point of the earth below, that we don’t really feel as much of that isolation,” she said.
Andrew Morgan, the third American at the station right now, discussed the importance of having a routine in space, including exercise, personal hygiene and sleep.
“And then I think another aspect that we practice regularly up here that applies very well to the situation on earth right now is being a good crewmate, and thinking about how your actions affect the actions of others.”
A reporter pointed out during last week’s livestream that we are in the midst of the 50th anniversary of Apollo 13, a near-disaster that became a triumph.
“They had a crisis in space, and the flight control team, mission control on the ground, prevailed through their ingenuity, their professionalism, and brought the crew home safely,” Morgan said, who noting that he and Meir are set to land 50 years to the day (April 17) after the Apollo 13 crew returned to earth.
Morgan also indicated that mission control was adapting some of its procedures on the ground to minimize contact between its workers while they work to bring the astronauts home amid a global pandemic.
“But yet here they are persevering, and through their ingenuity and their professionalism, they’re going to return us to earth safely, just like their predecessors did 50 years ago,” Morgan said.
The world has seen how ingenuity and professionalism can take men and women to space and bring them back safely. Those same forces can help chart a course through the coronavirus crisis as businesses work to stay afloat, researchers work to better understand the virus, improve testing and create a vaccine, and everyone works to stay healthy.
Watch: What does returning to normal look like?