Aroostook County native Jessica Meir lifted the dreams and spirits of Mainers when she made her extraordinary journey into outer space. But Meir’s influence has spread beyond the borders of her home state.
In its new listing, Time magazine named the astronaut among the most influential people of 2020.
Meir made history on Sept. 28, 2019, when she became the first Maine woman to go into space. During her six-month mission aboard the International Space Station, Meir and her fellow astronaut Christina Koch, with whom she shared the honor in the national magazine, performed with aplomb “intellectually” and “physically demanding” work in the most difficult environment humans have yet encountered, Mae Jemison, the first African American woman in space, wrote in explaining the duo’s accomplishment.
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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.
During her time in space, Meir and Koch made history on Oct. 18, 2019, when they went on the first all-female spacewalk to replace a faulty battery unit. While the occasion garnered much attention down on Earth, Meir told NASA-TV she and Koch were just part of the “team.”
But Jemison wrote that their milestone could have a lasting impact for future “major human endeavors.” During their 7-hour, 17-minute spacewalk, Meir and Koch wore spacesuits designed back in the 1970s before NASA had sent any women into space and were designed with men in mind, according to Jemison. That famously led to NASA scrapping an earlier planned all-female spacewalk by Koch and Anne McClain because it did not have two properly fitted space suits.
“I believe that Koch and Meir, by their sheer skill and execution, shift us closer to a template based on intelligence, agility, capability, integrity, courage and excellence,” Jemison wrote.
READ MORE COVERAGE OF JESSICA MEIR
That may not be Meir’s last contribution to the annals of major human endeavors. Not long after she completed her first spacewalk, Meir told NASA-TV that her next goal may be to join the next human mission to the moon. The last human manned mission to the moon was in December 1972. Last year, the Trump administration set a goal to return to the moon by 2024.
Meir, who returned to Earth in April amid the coronavirus pandemic, 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 is currently at the International Space Station 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.