CARIBOU, Maine — Aroostook County native and famed NASA astronaut Jessica Meir will be honored next month for improving the lives of women across Maine through her inspirational career path.
Meir will be inducted next month into the Maine Women’s Hall of Fame, having been nominated by the Aroostook chapter of the American Association of University Women.
The Hall of Fame, a joint effort by the Business and Professional Women’s Maine Futurama Foundation and the University of Maine at Augusta, recognizes women from the state who have contributed greatly to society. Women such as Margaret Chase Smith, Gov. Janet Mills and U.S. Sen. Susan Collins — another Caribou native — have been inducted in past years.
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“Jessica is clearly a role model for girls and women,” the chapter said in its nomination letter. “Her persistence in reaching her goals, her historic role in space exploration, and her many achievements demonstrate that when a girl in a small town in northern Maine says she wants to be an astronaut she is not just dreaming.”
Valedictorian of the Caribou High School class of 1995, Meir made history in 2019 when she completed the first all-female spacewalk with fellow astronaut Christina Koch at the International Space Station. She subsequently participated in the second and third all-female spacewalks.
When she returned to Earth, Meir related that hers and Koch’s achievements paid tribute to generations of women who came before them, pushing boundaries and breaking glass ceilings.
“If it weren’t for their hard work when we really didn’t have a seat at the table, Christina and I wouldn’t have been out there that day,” Meir said during a Bangor Daily News event. “Christina and I feel it is our responsibility to keep sharing this and keep inspiring so that hopefully, one day for little girls that are growing up now, it won’t even be remarkable that two women are doing a spacewalk. Because it will just be normal.”
It was the fact that Meir continued to follow her dream even when she was passed over the astronaut team in 2009 that captured her attention, said Kathyrn Olmstead, president of the Aroostook chapter of the American Association of University Women. Meir kept on pushing toward the goal that was first sparked when she gazed up at the star-filled Caribou night sky as a little girl.
“I think it’s not only her achievements but her humility and her affection for her roots in Aroostook County,” Olmstead said. “She has said many times that it was the view of the night sky that she had at home that inspired her to want to pursue a future in space. And she did it.”
Meir has recalled that when her first-grade teacher in Caribou asked the class to draw what they wanted to be when they grew up, she drew herself in a space suit standing on the moon, Olmstead said. In December 2020, she learned she was named to NASA’s 18-member Artemis Team from which the crew may be chosen to orbit and land on the moon in this decade.
A 1999 graduate of Brown University with a degree in biology, Meir earned a master’s in space studies from the International Space University in Strasbourg, France, in 2000, and a doctorate in marine biology from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in 2009. She completed a National Science Foundation post-doctoral fellowship at the University of British Columbia in 2012 and was serving as assistant professor at Harvard Medical School/Massachusetts General Hospital when she was selected by NASA to begin her career as an astronaut.
The Maine Women’s Hall of Fame induction will be held March 19 in Augusta in observance of Women’s History Month. Julia (Judy) Kahrl of Arrowsic also will be inducted for her leadership in advocating for women’s autonomy as founder of Grandmothers for Reproductive Rights.
Founded in 1990, the event raises money for scholarships through the BPW/Maine Futurama Foundation.