Whether it’s the first mother-daughter duo to pilot a major commercial flight or the first African American woman to travel to both the North and South pole, women are constantly breaking barriers. Now, Jessica Meir has become the first female astronaut from the state of Maine. While there are many modern day Sheroes to revere, there is something especially profound about being the first woman to shatter a glass ceiling in a male-dominated industry.
In 1963, Valentina Tereshkova became the first ever woman to be sent to space. Since that iconic space mission, an estimated 550 people have flown to outer space, of which only 11 percent have been women. Of the estimated 60 women who have flown to space, the United States has sent upwards of 46 female astronauts into orbit with the other female astronauts being sent from countries such as China and France.
The widespread lack of female astronauts is what makes Jessica Meir and her space mission that much more iconic. This past September, Meir and her fellow crew boarded the Soyuz MS-15 spacecraft for a six-hour journey to the International Space Station. Far from her native Caribou in Maine, Meir and her crew mates left from the the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
Meir was one of just eight people selected from a pool of 6,000 applicants for NASA’s highly selective astronaut training program. At the time, Meir was working as an Assistant Professor at Harvard University before making the decision to move to Houston and commence her training at the Johnson Space Center. Admittedly, it took Meir three tries before snagging a coveted spot in NASA’s astronaut program, but she held true to her childhood dream of one day flying to outer space.
After six years of intensive training focused on a range of skills from walking in her 400-pound astronaut suit to even fixing a toilet in space, Meir now finds herself setting the record for becoming Maine’s first female astronaut.
“It’s a little bit surreal. It’s been a lot of work, and I’m very excited for this dream to come true,” Meir told the Press Herald prior to her launch.
“This is a girl who, from early elementary school, wanted to be an astronaut,” added close friend of Meir, Kenneth Atcheson.“I always told her, ‘Someday I’m going to be sitting in a chair on my lawn and you’ll go by. I’ll look up and say, ‘There’s Jessica.’”
For the next six months, Jessica Meir and her crew—which notably includes the first astronaut from the United Arab Emirates—will orbit 220 miles above the earth on the International Space Station. During her time in space, Meir will work on a variety of experiments that explore gravity’s effects on the human body as well as radiation’s effects on people.
Outside of her scientific research, Meir will also be tasked with onboard maintenance work, which could give her the chance for enjoying a space walk—a long held dream of hers. “I’m really looking forward to the opportunity to go out the hatch,” added Meir. “That’s when you really feel like an astronaut.”
Space aviation has ways to go in closing its gender gap, but with women like Jessica Meir paving the way, the hope is that future generation of women will dare to dream beyond this planet.