CARIBOU, Maine— Twenty lucky Caribou school students will get the opportunity of a lifetime on Tuesday when they will ask NASA astronaut Jessica Meir questions about living and working in space, via an in-flight educational downlink.
The downlink interview is one of the various educational opportunities NASA offers that allows students to interact with astronauts while they’re in space. Hundreds of schools and groups around the nation compete for a coveted 20 to 40-minute spot, though few are chosen.
Out of more than 200 proposals submitted last May for a downlink interview, NASA approved just 10 — one being the Caribou regional school district, Meir’s own alma mater.
Due to time limitations, the agency can only organize a dozen or so downlink interviews during each space mission and therefore, only accepts applications for the program twice a year, according to NASA spokesperson Stephanie Schierholz.
Caribou High School Principal Travis Barnes began the process of applying about a year ago when he first discovered Meir would have a chance to go to the space station. Barnes previously said that he had communicated with Meir via email and that she was “very interested” in speaking with Caribou students.
But the school couldn’t simply apply for just the downlink interview alone. They also had to create and submit a proposal with an educational component for students that would offer opportunities in subjects such as science, math, engineering and technology.
As part of the educational program, CHS planned to host a variety of workshops focusing on themes like STEM, fitness and goal-setting.
Barnes said the educational events are centered around the theme of pursuing your dreams, which is based on Meir’s lifelong dream of going on a spacewalk, a goal that she’d written in her own CHS yearbook nearly 25 years ago.
“What we’re trying to replicate is … ‘yes you can’ from small-town Caribou, Maine,” Barnes said.
The majority of the people leading workshops are CHS alums who have volunteered to host an activity for the students, but Meir’s mother and sister will also present a workshop on their experiences watching her voyage to space, Barnes said.
The interview is expected to take place at 10:35 a.m. Tuesday, Oct. 29, at the Performing Arts Center of Caribou High School.
More than 600 Caribou-area students will be at the high school that day for the activities, but only students from grades six through 12 will get to sit in for the interview with Meir.
While the event will not be open to the public due to limited seating, some local organizations and schools are planning to stream the downlink from NASA’s Youtube channel. The Caribou Wellness and Recreation Center is also expected to host an open viewing of the interview.