As a girl growing up in Caribou, Jessica Meir said her dream was to one day fly in space. As she got older, her vision never wavered. In her senior yearbook at Caribou High School, Meir wrote that her goal was “To go for a spacewalk.”

On Wednesday, the 41-year-astronaut, whose mother now lives in Cape Elizabeth, saw her lifelong dream fulfilled when NASA announced that she would fly to the International Space Station in September.

“Most likely I’ll get to do some spacewalks, which I am incredibly excited about,” Meir said Wednesday night during a telephone interview from the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, where she is training. “Spacewalks are something I think about … a lot. It could be a paradigm-shifting perspective. It can show a person just how insignificant humans are and that we are all part of something much, much bigger.”

Her mission, scheduled to begin Sept. 25, will last for six months, but could be extended, as has been the case with many astronauts.

Meir will join Christina Koch, whose stay was extended Wednesday to 328 days. That would be the longest flight ever by a female astronaut, breaking the previous mark of 288 days set by Peggy Whitson in 2016-17.

To reach the space station, which orbits at roughly 220 miles above Earth, Meir will co-pilot a Soyuz spacecraft with a Russian commander, a mission she has spent months training for. The co-pilot serves as flight engineer.

She spent the last year in Russia, training and learning the language. Everyone on the space station must be able to speak English and Russian.

Once she arrives at the space station, Meir said, she will spend the next six months conducting experiments ranging from studying gravity’s effects on the human body, to protein crystal growth and radiation’s effect on humans.

There will be plenty of routine maintenance work to do as well, both inside and outside the space station.

The International Space Station NASA photo

“I’ll have to change a light bulb and I’ve heard the toilet breaks down a lot. It’s not like we can call a plumber,” she said.

While fixing a toilet or changing a light bulb is necessary work, it’s the exterior maintenance that has got Meir really pumped, she said.

Meir said she credits a lot of her success to the people who mentored and supported her during her childhood in Aroostook County. Though she does not have a military background, Meir said, NASA strives for a diverse mix of astronauts. About 50 percent of the astronaut corps, like her, have civilian backgrounds.

“I want to thank all the people, the educators, who helped me achieve my dreams. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the amazing support they gave me,” she said.

Jessica Meir NASA photo

Meir plans to spend part of July in Maine visiting family and friends before she flies into space.

Meir was the youngest of five children and graduated as valedictorian from Caribou High School in 1995.

She went on to get a bachelor’s degree in biology from Brown University and a master’s in space science at the International Space University in France. Her doctorate in marine biology is from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California in San Diego.

For her doctoral research, she studied oxygen depletion in diving emperor penguins in the Antarctic and elephant seals in northern California. Later, she studied high-flying bar-headed geese at the University of British Columbia. The birds migrate twice a year over the world’s tallest mountains, the Himalayas, and Meir trained a group of geese to fly in a wind tunnel to study them in reduced oxygen conditions.

Early in her career, Meir worked for three years at the Johnston Space Center in Lockheed Martin’s Human Research Facility. She participated in research flights on NASA’s reduced gravity aircraft and was an aquanaut on an exploration mission in Aquarius, an underground research laboratory.

In 2012, she accepted a job as an assistant professor at the Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, where she continued to research the physiology of animals in extreme environments. Her work has taken her on scuba diving expeditions in the Antarctic and Belize, and she is also a private pilot.

In 2013, NASA chose her for its astronaut training class of eight people out of a pool of 6,000 applicants.

Astronaut training took two years. She studied space station systems, sciences like engineering and meteorology, aircraft operations and water and wilderness survival. Her fellow participants in the space flight will be Oleg Skripochka of Russia and Hazzaa Ali Almansoori of the United Arab Emirates, as well as the Russian commander.

Meir recently shared a picture on her Instagram and Twitter accounts showing her training in a spacesuit and holding a Maine flag.

When she joined the astronaut training class, Meir told the Portland Press Herald she hoped she could travel to the space station someday.

“It’s amazing to realize this dream you have been thinking about for so long actually comes true,” she said at the time. 

In a video interview posted by NASA, Meir said she is working hard to prepare for the flight.

“They keep us incredibly busy, especially right now going back and forth between training trips in Russia and here, learning how to be the copilot of the Soviets, which I’ll be doing, and then coming back here and learning all about all the space station systems and all the science and everything that we’ll be doing on board,” Meir said.

“Definitely a lot of work, but trying to enjoy it and revel in it a little bit as well,” she added.

Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

[email protected]

Megan Gray can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

[email protected]