On Friday, Feb. 24, the Versant Power Astronomy Center hosted its final screening of “Forward! To the Moon.” This film, which details NASA’s ongoing 21st-century Artemis program, features 45-year-old Caribou, Maine native Jessica Meir.
Meir was one of nine women from the 18 total astronauts selected for NASA’s Artemis team. She has already spent a total of 204 days, 15 hours and 19 minutes in space during her career. Alongside Christina Koch, Meir also participated in the first-ever, all-women spacewalk while performing a power controller replacement at the International Space Station in 2019.
Ever since she was a young child, Meir has had a passion for space and the possibilities it brings. In her high school yearbook, she wrote under her future plans: “To go for a spacewalk,” and has since accomplished so much more.
“I’ll never forget that moment, coming out of the hatch, and looking down and seeing just my boots and the earth below,” Meir said.“It was such a spectacular and beautiful sight.”
The Artemis team is named after the Greek goddess of the moon and twin sister of Apollo, which was the first program to successfully send astronauts to the moon on July 20, 1969. Meir will possibly be one of the next astronauts to step foot on the moon if she is one of the few chosen to board Artemis 3 for its expected launch in 2025.
“We’re going to the moon to explore, and we’re going to the moon for scientific discovery. I don’t look at this as my own accomplishment…this is our mission. This is everybody’s mission. Our entire planet’s really,” Meir said.
During the Apollo missions in the late 1960s and early 1970s, all of the astronauts were men, mainly because women did not have the exposure men did to test flight experiences, which served as crucial training for anyone venturing into space. Female astronauts were eventually selected by NASA beginning in 1978, and as of early 2022, a total of 75 women have traveled into space. However, none have yet set foot on the moon. A woman finally accomplishing this feat would reach one of the many milestones NASA hopes to achieve through the Artemis program.
NASA successfully launched the first of three planned Artemis missions in November 2022 from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Artemis 1 was a 25.5 day unmanned launch to test the agency’s new Space Launch System (SLS) rocket’s safety, as well as the Orion capsule’s ability to reach the moon after detachment.
Next up is the Artemis 2 mission scheduled for May 2024, which will carry four astronauts on a 10-day mission to fly by the moon farther than any human has ever traveled. If Artemis 2 is successful, NASA will proceed with the 2025 launch of Artemis 3, which will hopefully carry Meir to the moon’s surface for a week-long stay.
The Artemis program is just one piece of NASA’s ambitions to reach new distances and continue to explore the world beyond Earth more than ever before. The agency ultimately sees the Artemis moon missions as the starting point of an eventual mission to Mars. A successful landing on Mars would certainly be more difficult, however NASA is hopeful that its current program will help it prepare for a mission to the Red Planet at some point in the 2030s.
UMaine’s Maynard Jordan Planetarium welcomes all members of the public to different programs each month on Fridays at 7 p.m. To view upcoming shows and events at the Versant Power Astronomy Center, visit https://astro.umaine.edu/.