CARIBOU, Maine — Caribou native and astronaut Jessica Meir made history Friday morning, Oct. 18, as she and fellow astronaut Christina Koch embarked on the first all-woman spacewalk at 7:50 a.m.
In addition to supporters across the world, Meir’s hometown of Caribou is proudly cheering her on from Earth.
At Caribou High School, students watched live video of Meir’s spacewalk from seats that she once occupied as a student.
Alaina Quinlan, a CHS junior, said Meir “has been an absolute role model” for herself and everyone at Caribou High School.
“It’s been absolutely mindblowing to witness not only an astronaut from our school go on a spacewalk,” she said, “but also that she’s a woman. It’s crazy to think we’ve made that kind of history and that someone from this rural town is a part of that.”
Quinlan said she has met Meir in the past, and that she has shown her that “it’s okay to be a woman in science and to be proud of that.”
Following high school, Quinlan said she plans to study psychological science.
“It’s hard to think that an astronaut from NASA could have sat in my chair however long ago,” Quinlan said. “To see her journey from the beginning of her training to now has been amazing, and it has really inspired members of our school and town. It’s been a great way to bring everyone together.”
CHS junior Malachai Willey was also excited to see Meir achieve a lifelong dream.
“I think it’s pretty awesome that someone from such a small school could accomplish something so big,” he said. “It really shows that anything is possible, and it really opens up the door for all of the students here.”
Looking ahead, Willey said he hopes to attend medical school to become a surgeon and that watching a former alumna of his high school achieve her dreams has inspired him to work hard toward that goal.
“She’s shown us that anything is possible,” Willey said.
The city is planning numerous events surrounding Meir’s trip to space, and recently sent a winning proposal to NASA in which students from her former school will have a chance to speak with her while she is aboard the International Space Station on Oct 29.
More than 200 downlink proposals were written, but NASA only granted access to Caribou and nine others in the country.
The small community of fewer than 10,000 people came together and formed a committee in order to ensure that their proposal met all of NASA’s standards, a process that Caribou High School Principal Travis Barnes said “began about a year ago when we first discovered that Meir would have a chance to explore space.”
This committee quickly grew in size, with members tasked to handling unique portions of the proposal, including an impact statement which summarizes why the downlink is so important for not only students, but the community of Meir’s hometown.
This statement cites Meir’s 1995 yearbook quote, in which she wrote that her future goal was to embark on a spacewalk, a goal that was realized this morning.
To coincide with this theme, students in Caribou will be asked “What is your spacewalk?” this month and learn about setting, and ultimately achieving, their own personal goals.
Caribou Marketing and Events Coordinator Christina Kane-Gibson, a member of this committee, shared a story about how her 7-year-old son was particularly inspired by Meir’s journey into space.
His class created crafts out of paper plates in which the plate represented their helmet and they drew their faces in the middle. On the back, they wrote about how they watched Meir “blast off” into space during class.
“When he got home,” Kane-Gibson said, “he was so proud. He hung it on the fridge and we talked about it. He said ‘I can reach my goals too.’”
She said her son watching Meir, who attended the same school, literally reach for the stars gave him the inspiration and confidence to realize that he can achieve his dreams too.
“I think that’s part of the reason we’re really excited about this,” Kane-Gibson said. “It shows us here in Caribou that yes, you can do it. You can make your dreams come true, you just need a little inspiration.”
CHS English Teacher Shannon Sleeper said that she and other teachers are currently trying to build knowledge around Meir’s mission so that when the downlink occurs, students will not only be excited, but also have more knowledge as to what Meir is doing in space.
“She’s researching cancer and doing agricultural experiments,” Sleeper said, “and we’re trying to show students that, if they’re interested in growing potatoes for example, part of what she’s working on in space may create advancements in that, and many other fields.”
Sleeper’s students, since learning that Meir would be journeying into space, have all been inspired by the accomplishments of the former CHS student.
“I was talking to a junior who was saying that she would really like to be a professional soccer player,” Sleeper said, “and I said ‘Why don’t you Jessica Meir it?’ and create a plan that would never exclude you from that possibility. Keep working and keep looking for different pathways to get you to that end goal, just like she did.”
Sleeper said she was also moved by watching Meir embark on her first spacewalk.
“Imagining, for me, her facial expression coming through the hatch just made my heart explode,” she said. “Because the level of excitement and gratitude she had for just being able to accomplish this dream has impacted all of us watching. And it has created tangible excitement for students, realizing that a lot of hard work goes into this, but it can happen.”
United States Sen. Susan Collins, who is also a Caribou native, congratulated Meir on her achievement.
“Congratulations, Jessica, on another remarkable accomplishment. We are all so proud of you,” Sen. Collins said. “You continue to be an inspiration to students in our hometown of Caribou, across Maine, and throughout the country.”
Likewise, Maine Senate President Troy Jackson, an Aroostook County native, wished Meir the “best of luck in her continued exploration and work with NASA,” adding that “all of us in Maine are rooting for her.”
“Dr. Jessica Meir’s accomplishment today represents a historic moment for Aroostook County, the state of Maine and for the entire country,” Jackson said. “She is a shining example for young people everywhere, and proof that hard work and perseverance can help you achieve your dreams.”
Live coverage of Meir and Koch’s venture into space was streamed from NASA on bangordailynews.com
Meir’s first spacewalk was originally planned for Oct. 16 with the goal of replacing a faulty power unit, but station managers decided to postpone this walk, according to NASA, as the failed unit “has no impact on the crew’s safety or ongoing laboratory experiments.”
On Friday, Meir and Koch replaced a failed power controller, or battery charge-discharge unit. Their mission involved exiting the Quest airlock, crossing the threshold into space, and venturing to the “far side of the station on the Port 6 truss structure” to replace the discharge unit. NASA estimated the task would take roughly five and a half hours.
The failed controller will then return to Earth on the SpaceX Dragon resupply ship, and station managers will schedule three battery replacement spacewalks in the future.
Friday also marked Meir’s second landmark achievement, as she became the first Maine woman to travel into space in late September when she boarded the Soyuz MS-15 spacecraft at Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan and embarked on a 220-mile flight to the International Space Station.
Meir is scheduled to return to Earth early next year.