In her high school yearbook, Maine student Jessica Meir wrote that it was her dream “to go for a spacewalk.” Some 25 years later, she’s thinking even bigger.
Fresh off a 205-day mission on the International Space Station, the 43-year-old Meir has been chosen as one of 18 candidates – nine men and nine women – to take on the first human missions to orbit and land on the moon since Apollo 17, NASA has announced.
The mission is part of the Artemis program, named after Apollo’s twin sister. The Trump administration has directed that NASA return to the moon by 2024, and establish a sustainable human presence there by the end of the decade.
President-elect Joe Biden may have other ideas, and none of the astronauts on the list is guaranteed a spot on the mission. But if it goes forward, NASA will choose the team from that list of candidates, including at least one woman.
Meir is more than qualified. A biologist, she went to the International Space Station in September 2019 and returned in April, during which time she supported about 250 experiments, including research on creating bio-artificial organs and tissue in space. She travelled 86.9 million miles in space during her journey, completing 3,280 orbits of Earth while on the space station.
She also joined fellow astronaut Christina Koch for the first all-female spacewalk, fixing a battery charger while floating about 250 miles above Earth.
During the mission, she became the third Maine native to go to space, and the third to complete a spacewalk.
The number of people who have been to space is small. The number who have conducted a spacewalk is even smaller.
Now, Meir and the rest of the members of the Artemis team are in line to join an even more exclusive club. Just 12 astronauts – all men – have walked on the moon, none since the final Apollo mission in 1972.
Meir always makes it clear that her focus is on the mission and the experience of being in space. This week, she made a point to say that none of what she has accomplished would have been possible without the groundbreaking work of others, whether it be women of prior generations who pushed for opportunities, or all those scientists and engineers whose dedication and ingenuity have made space travel possible.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t be proud of everything she has done.
And excited of what she may do in the future. The ultimate purpose of the mission to the moon is to establish a base for an eventual trip to Mars. Once the mission is ready to go, she will be too, Meir said this week.
The moon. Mars. What would that high school student have to say about that?