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Caribou native turned astronaut speaks at CCA

Astronaut Dr. Jessica Meir, a former graduate of Caribou High School, spoke to hundreds of grade school students and others at the Collins Center for the Arts on Wednesday, Jan. 27.

Meir, 38, is a member of NASA Astronaut Group 21, a group of eight former astronaut candidates who completed a two-year long training program to prepare themselves for space activities. Learning components of the program included learning about how to fly NASA aircraft, how to use and maintain robotic equipment and how to perform extra-vehicular activities (also known as spacewalks).

“When I was five years old I started saying that I wanted to be an astronaut,” Meir said.

The lecture about her astronaut training, her duties at NASA, and life aboard the International Space Station (ISS) was made possible by the Challenger Learning Center of Maine. The center, located in Bangor, is designed to inspire students to pursue goals in mathematics and science. Meir also said that many of her teachers inspired her to pursue a career in science.

“If we do go to any heavenly bodies,” Meir said, “we are going to need this kind of training.”

Meir also commemorated the anniversary of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. The 30th anniversary of the accident, which killed seven crew members, was observed on Thursday, Jan. 28.

“What an exciting career she has had so far,” Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Jeffrey Hecker said. “The excitement of the sciences is palpable.”

Hecker also said that UMaine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center is performing research on NASA’s Hypersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator, which is a cone of tubes attached to the nose of a spacecraft designed to slow down the craft upon entering a planet’s atmosphere.

Meir says she is motivated about NASA’s efforts to put humans on Mars.

“Mars has always captured the human imagination for decades and decades, it’s always been the planet that everyone’s looking toward,” she said in an interview with The Washington Post. “Knowing it’s out there, it’s what drives everything that we do.”

Meir currently works for NASA as a capsule communicator, one of a group of people who work around the clock to speak to astronauts working aboard the ISS.

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