Jessica Meir

Astronaut and Maine Native Jessica Meir Talks About Experience in Space

From 2019 to 2020, Meir served as a flight engineer on the International Space Station

NBC Universal, Inc.

It's been two months since astronaut and Maine native Jessica Meir returned from space and now the Caribou native is speaking out about what it was like to be a member of the first all-female spacewalk.

Meir, who was first selected by NASA in 2013, had a childhood dream of going to space.

From 2019 to 2020, she got to serve as a flight engineer on the International Space Station for Expedition 61 and 62.

Over the past year, and particularly since the beginning of her time on the ISS in 2019, Meir said she found herself in a variety of situations she didn't necessarily expect.

Those moments have included giving tips on isolation for people stuck at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, making appearances on late night talk shows and getting serenaded by one of her favorite bands, The National.

But it was the spacewalk that made a lot of national headlines, when she and fellow astronaut, Christina Koch, donned space suits and went outside the ISS to do maintenance and keep the orbiting lab functional.

During the time she and Koch were doing that work, Meir says the priority was just that. The work.

She had a job to do and, as she points out, the class of astronauts she was part of in 2013, was also the first to have 50% men and 50% women.

By the numbers, Meir says everyone should expect to see more women on more NASA missions and notes the agency has committed to putting a woman on the Moon.

Still, she'll also tell you that just because space can be a physical and emotional vacuum when you're working in it, with inches of a protective suit between you and death, there are moments of reflection after the hatch closes.

"It was a very proud and humbling moment," she said, during an interview with NECN and NBC10 Boston on Friday.

She explained that she and Koch, "were quite overwhelmed by the level of excitement for it on the ground" and that the experience wasn't necessarily something she had expected.

The credit for the achievement, however, Meir says, actually goes to all of the previous NASA astronauts whose shoulders, Meir feels she stands on.

"That spacewalk had really nothing to do with Christina and myself," she said. "That was really for all these women that came before us."

In the present and on Earth, Meir has continued contributing to efforts for future efforts, who Meir believes will be from many diverse backgrounds, as they prepare for more private-sector supported space travel along with missions to the Moon and Mars.

In particular, Meir is looking forward to the publication of a paper she worked on about an experiment in space to find different ways to combat muscular and skeletal atrophy.

She explained that the zero-gravity environment in space takes a heavy toll on an animal's muscles and bones, which, in turn, would make a long space flight to somewhere like Mars rather difficult since a spacecraft making that journey would likely be smaller and not have room for the exercise equipment Meir had access to stay healthy on the ISS.

A third of all humans currently in space are from the state of Maine. Last week, York native Chris Cassidy joined Caribou native Jessica Meir on the International Space Station who will be preparing to head back to Earth.

"There was one experiment using a mice model that has applications not only for long-term space flight but also to many disease states on the ground, conditions where people have problems with their muscular and skeletal systems," Meir said.

"That's actually yielded some incredibly interesting results and we've recently just submitted a paper to publish those results. You'll have to stay tuned just a little bit longer," she added.

Waiting a bit longer is something Meir quickly realized she too would be doing after landing in Kazakhstan in April.

Because of COVID-19, her mother was unable to fly to Houston to see her in person as planned and Meir hasn't been able to fly to Maine either.

"I still haven't seen my mom," she said. "Outside of [her] friends in the local area, I haven't seen any of my family or friends and that's been disappointing and difficult for me to deal with but it's something that everybody is having to deal with."

Meir says keeping her family and friends healthy by not traveling to them is more important right now.

While she stays grounded, Meir is also waiting to find out if she will be selected for any of NASA's upcoming missions to the Moon or beyond.

As she pointed out, the decision is not hers, but if possible she would get on a rocket tomorrow to return to space.

"To go to the Moon, that is really my next great dream and there's a chance that could happen," she said.

In the meantime, Meir says she's going to appreciate everything she missed while she was in orbit, a list that includes the friends she can see right now, fresh fruits and vegetables, yogurt at breakfast and salads.

She is also thinking about what she will do when she eventually returns to Maine and thinking of all the people she wants to thank in person.

"New England has always played such a special part of my life, I was living and working in Boston before I got this job and spent all of my first years in Maine and spent all of my first 18 years in Maine," she said.

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