When she was 5 years old, Jessica Mayer painted herself as an astronaut. In her high school yearbook, she writes that she wants to go on a space trip.
Six years ago, NASA selected it to train astronauts. This month, the 42-year-old from Caribou will launch his first mission at the International Space Station.
"It's a bit surreal. It was a lot of work and I'm very excited about this dream to come true, "Meir said last week during a phone interview from Star City, Russia, where he was training for his mission.
Meir said he was "incredibly humble" to be part of a historic mission that included the first United Arab Emirates astronaut. Meir herself makes history as the first Maine woman – and only the third Maine person to ever go on a space flight. York-born Chris Cassidy went to space station in 2009 and 2013 and later served as chief astronaut, and Charles Hoba, who was born in Bar Harbor, performed three space flights between 2001 and 2009.
Engineer on flights, Meir will cooperate as a pilot on the Soyuz MS-15 spacecraft, which is scheduled to launch on September 25 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Also on board will be cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka from the Russian space agency Roscosmos and Hazzaa Ali Almansoori from the United Arab Emirates space center Mohammed bin Rashid.
After the six-hour flight, they will join the six other crew members currently on board, including NASA astronauts Nick Hague, Christina Koch and Andrew Morgan. There will be nine astronauts on board for eight days, three more than typical of the space station, after which three of them will return to Earth.
Meir will spend six months at a space station orbiting 220 miles above Earth. The experiments she will run range from studying the effects of gravity on the human body to the growth of protein crystals to the effects of radiation on humans. Maintenance activities are yet to take place, which opens the possibility for her to go on the space path she has been dreaming of for decades.
"I really look forward to the opportunity to get out of the hatch," Meir said. "Just then, you feel like an astronaut."
Three attempts were made to select Meir for the highly selective astronaut training program, but in 2013 she was among eight people selected from a group of 6,000 candidates. At the time, she worked as an assistant at Harvard and moved to Houston for a training program at the Johnson Space Center.
She has been training intensively for the last six years, mastering skills ranging from fixing a toilet to a 400-pound space suit during a spacewalk.
That Meir achieved her goal of becoming an astronaut and traveling to space was no surprise to the people of Caribou. , where Meir was a Valedictarian of the Caribbean High School class of 1995, played three sports and practiced with school groups.
"This is a girl who, since elementary school, has wanted to be an astronaut," said Kenneth Atcheson, who has been in touch with Meir since he taught her in high school. "I always told her, 'Someday I'll sit in a chair on my lawn and you will pass. I will look up and say, "Jessica is there."
As the youngest of five children in a family of competitive excellence, Meir always tried to keep up with her siblings, her mother told the Portland Press Herald in 2013. Her parents inspired her love for nature, as well as growing up in rural Aroostook County, Meir said last week.
"It really ignited in me a passion for exploration and appreciation for nature," Meir
The late father of Meir Joseph was born in Iraq but immigrated to pre-Israel as a child and later fought in the War on the country's independence in 1948, Mayr told the Jewish Telegraph Agency that year. He became a doctor and moved to Sweden, where he met and married Meir's mother, Ulla-Britt, who was a nurse. They moved to Maine when Mayr's father accepted a job in Aroostook County.
Mayr said that she did not know exactly what sparked her interest in space. It could have been her fascination with nature or the clear view of the stars from Aroostook County. Maybe these were the shuttle launches she watched on television.
By the time she started high school, Meir's friends and teachers were already aware of her dream of becoming an astronaut.  "She sought this dream early and never waved. I knew she would be where she is today just because it's Jessica, "said Joey Cowet, who grew up with Meir in Caribou." She really uses her knowledge and intelligence to get to where she is. work and do it. "
This tenacity is one of Meir's trademarks, say those who knew her, but it's her compassion and loyalty. She played football, skied and ran on the track in high school. civic leader and talented musician who played the flute and later raised the saxophone, said Von McLaughlin rector of the Meir group from grades four to 12.
"She drives, but she always does it with a smile on her face," McLaughlin said, adding that Meir told him she would bring a piccolo with her to the space station and plans to play the saxophone that's already there.
In 2016, Meir was inducted into the Caribbean Hall of Fame in Caribou Glory, along with her alumnus of US Senator Susan Collins.
“For me, the Caribou High School was so many things: the football team, the band, the French club, dancing, high school graduation, winter carnivals. Do you remember those snow sports we would play outside – 6 foot snow soccer? Who else is doing this? It was incredible, "Meir said during a Skype conversation shared during the ceremony, according to a 2016 article in The County newspaper.
" More than anything, Caribou was home, "Meir continued." with family, friends and teachers who provided me with countless memories and the basics of education, which was really paramount to bring me to where I am today. "
DOCTORAL RESEARCH ANE
After high school, Meir attended the University of Braun, where he studied biology and played the saxophone in the jazz band and flute in the orchestra. from the Scripps Institute of Oceanography in San Diego, and for her doctoral studies she studied oxygen depletion in the diving Imperial Penguins in Antarctica.
Later, Meir studied high-flying geese with heads at the University of British Columbia. The birds migrate twice a year over the highest mountains in the world, the Himalayas.
For this study, Meir trained the sight of lizards from the time they hatched, so that they believed she was their mother. They would follow her from campus, first while Meir was walking, then while riding a bicycle, and later a motor scooter. She trained them to fly in a wind tunnel while wearing masks and small backpacks with data monitoring equipment.
By reducing the oxygen in the wind tunnel, Meir was able to determine how little oxygen was needed for the geese. Meir and other scientists have found that when they lower the oxygen that geese breathe, animals cool their blood and slow down their metabolism. A study of Meir and her colleagues was published last week in eLife.
Before becoming an astronaut, Meir continued to study animal physiology in extreme environments. Her work has taken her on dive trips to Antarctica and Belize, and she has been an aquaman on a research mission in Aquarius, an underground research laboratory.
All this work in extreme environments has prepared Meir for her next mission in extreme conditions. But this time she will be both a subject and a scientist.
During their stay at the space station Meir and her teammates will support about 250 research experiments that "extend our knowledge of Earth, physical and biological sciences in ways that benefit our daily lives, "according to NASA. They will also help to enable long-term deep space exploration for future Artemis missions to the moon and Mars.
"As a scientist, I am extremely excited to be involved as a subject and operator," she says.  Meir said part of her work will be at a bioproduction facility that will do research that can one day allow bio-artificial organs and tissues to be made into space and used for organ transplants on the ground. She will also work on an experiment that aims to better understand how blood vessels are affected by microgravity, a condition in which people and objects appear weightless. Astronauts returning from the space station have had hardening and thickening within the walls of the carotid artery, which has caused an aging equivalent to 20 years in six months.
To prepare for all this – co-piloting a rocket, experimenting and living on a space station – Meir has spent much of the last year and a half in Star City, Russia. There she learned everything from Russian to how to repair a toilet in space.
"For me, studying here at Star City has been one of the most amazing experiences of my entire career so far," Meir said in a NASA video highlighting her training in Russia. "The training here in Star City, the place where the first person in space is trained, is something incredible and incredible."
Cassidy, an astronaut from York, was at the space station when Meir was selected as an astronaut and called to congratulate her. . After returning to Earth, he recognized Meir as a "top-notch person and best professional" who mastered the skills of learning and testing with a good sense of humor.
"She can roll with this during stressful times," he said. "She's a pleasure to work with."
Cassidy, who contacted Meir for their shared love of Maine, will reunite with her colleague in March when he arrives for his third space station mission. They will spend several weeks in orbit around Earth before completing its mission.
"For the first time ever, we will have two Maine astronauts in space at the same time," Cassidy says.
Meir has documented much of her training on her Instagram profile, from Russian dishes to the final exams she took with her teammates last week. Last week, she spent a few hours strolling through the Botanical Gardens, enjoying the flowers, appreciating the breeze on her skin and smelling of the fresh air.
"The thing I will miss most is nature," she
But Meir looks forward to seeing her first views of Earth from space, an experience that she believes will strengthen her appreciation of how fragile and special is the Earth.
"From what I've heard from people who have been up there, it really changes your life," she said. "I think that really changes your perspective as a person."
When Meir launches from Kazakhstan in 17 days, Caribou will watch.
"The community is very proud of it," said Cowet, a friend of Meir's High School. "Not every day you have someone in your space-rising community."
After years of training, Meir said she was confident and ready for her first space trip. And she's packed with a few things to remind her of her home, including the Maine flag.
"I feel like I've been preparing for this all my life," she said.