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Maine Astronaut Jessica Meir Speaks With Students From Her Hometown — From Space

Robbie Feinberg
Maine Public
Astronaut Jessica Meir speaks with students inside the auditorium of Caribou High School on Tuesday.

Last month, Jessica Meir of Caribou launched into space, becoming the first female astronaut from Maine. A few weeks ago, she made history again as part of the first all-female spacewalk from the International Space Station.

The people in her hometown have been closely following her story, and on Tuesday, Meir spoke from the space station with hundreds of middle and high school students about her own childhood in Aroostook County and how it prepared her for her journey into space.

The hundreds of students packed into the auditorium of Caribou High School could barely contain themselves as Meir’s image was beamed onto a giant projector screen. As the lights dimmed, sixth-grader Brady Barnes said Meir’s trajectory has recently been the talk of many classes.

“Like, from a little town in Maine, that she was going to be up on the space station. So it was just crazy,” he said.

Once connected, about a dozen students from third through 12th grade got to talk with Meir and ask her questions.

Credit Robbie Feinberg / Maine Public
3rd grader Ava Saed asks astronaut Jessica Meir a question as part of a call on Tuesday. Meir, from Caribou, spoke with RSU 39 students from the International Space Station.

“How did being from a small town impact your career?” asked Caribou Middle School eighth grader Claire Ouellette.

Meir said her hometown played a major role in her wanting to go to space from a young age.

“Maybe that was because growing up in a small town in Caribou, we spent a lot of time outside. In nature. In the trees. I was fascinated with science and nature and the world around me. Perhaps it was because when you look at the stars from up in Caribou, you have an amazing view that’s really uncluttered by light pollution, like we have in other big cities. So maybe it’s one of those things. I started saying it when I was 5 years old and I just never stopped,” she said.

Meir went on to say that her experience in Caribou helped shape her perspective of the world.

“I think it allowed me to think a little bit differently. And to identify with a lot of different types of people. Which served me very well. And helped me to get along with others, and appreciate different points of view. So I think for me, it was a great contribution to where I am now,” she said.

And some students, including 11th-grader Alaina Quinlan, wanted to know about life in space.

Credit Robbie Feinberg / Maine Public
Becka Meir Playford, the sister of astronaut Jessica Meir, shows students at Caribou High School photos from Meir's launch to the International Space Station last month.

“How has your interpretation of space and being an astronaut changed before and after your spacewalks?” she said.

Meir said she has been eager for nearly every experience on the space station, but she said the space walks were something else.

“You look down, and you can just see your boots. Nothing but your feet and the Earth below you. And that feeling, it just is absolutely awe inspiring. Thinking about the magnitude of where we are and how insignificant, really, we are as humans,” she said.

At one point, Meir even grabbed her piccolo, the same one she said she used in her high school band, and performed a quick tune.

While the call lasted only about 20 minutes, the school district used the event to create an entire day of programming. Students took part in about 50 different workshops, including a presentation from Meir’s family and talks about survival and turning wood into jet fuel.

Caribou High School Principal Travis Barnes said he hopes the experiences will lead students to expand their aspirations.

“There may be curves in the road or forks that they have to take, but hopefully today, listening to what Jessica had to say, what these individuals leading these breakout sessions have to say, will give them the ability to dream that they can do what they want to get to,” he said.

Sophomore Abbie McNeal says simply seeing Meir aboard the space station has had an effect.

“It was crazy to think she got chosen, coming from such a small town like Caribou. It just opened our eyes to see that anybody who comes from a small town can do anything they want,” she said.

Meir will be in the International Space Station through next spring, when she is due to return to Earth.

Originally published 5:21 p.m. Oct. 29, 2019