KENNEBUNK — It might have been her fascination with nature. Or maybe it was the way the stars looked from northern Maine.

Jessica Meir doesn’t remember exactly what prompted her, at age 5, to start saying she wanted to be an astronaut. In her high school yearbook, she wrote her plan for the future was to “go for a spacewalk.”

Three decades later, the Caribou native has completed astronaut training with NASA and is awaiting her first assignment in space. Her boss is Chief Astronaut Chris Cassidy, a York native and the only other astronaut from Maine.

Meir, 39, spoke to students from Kennebunk, Kennebunkport and Arundel on Wednesday about her work as a scientist and her path to a new career at NASA. Before putting on a spacesuit for the first time, she studied emperor penguins in the Antarctic, worked with elephant seals in northern California and trained geese to fly into wind tunnels so she could measure their physiology in extreme environments.

Meir was selected in 2013 as one of eight members of the 21st NASA astronaut class and was one of only two class members without a military background. One of their first training exercises was survival school on Navy land near Rangeley.

“Only a few people get to be in a spacesuit. That’s when you feel like a real astronaut,” Meir told the 1,300 elementary students from RSU 21.


Meir graduated from Caribou High School in 1995 before earning her undergraduate degree in biology from Brown University, a master’s degree in space studies from International Space University and a doctorate in marine biology from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in 2009, according to her NASA biography. Early in her career, she worked for three years at the Johnston Space Center in Lockheed Martin’s Human Research Facility as an experiment support scientist. In 2002, she was an aquanaut on an exploration mission in Aquarius, an underground research laboratory.

After showing them a photo of Caribou from the International Space Station, Meir told students about the training she does at NASA and her job in the mission control center communicating with astronauts on the space station.

She prompted laughs as she described what it is like to feel zero gravity and the logistics of wearing a 400-pound spacesuit during 6-hour training sessions in a large pool. Those sessions are so long, she said, that astronauts have to wear diapers.

The spacesuit training stories were particularly interesting to 9-year-old Samuel Matthews, a third-grader at Kennebunkport Consolidated School.

“I didn’t know training was that exciting,” he said.

There may have been no student more excited for the presentation than fifth-grader Jaime Harrington of Kennebunk. She wanted to wear her NASA shirt, but when she couldn’t find it, had to settle for a T-shirt covered with a chart of the planets. The 10-year-old said she dreams of being an astronomer and loves the thought of “looking through a telescope and seeing the stars.”


“I thought it was really cool to see how people came from so many places and backgrounds and came together to study space,” she said of Meir’s astronaut class.

Harrington said she plans to work hard in science now and take STEM classes in high school. But would she want to actually go to space?

“I’d want to be the one in control of the astronauts from Earth,” she said.

Meir spent the day in Kennebunk, speaking to various student groups and at a community presentation Wednesday evening. Her visit was hosted by the school district and the Education Foundation of the Kennebunks and Arundel, a nonprofit that raises money to support education in the school district.

Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

Twitter: @grahamgillian

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