NASA astronaut Jessica Meir climbs aboard a Soyuz trainer during final crew qualification exams Aug. 30 at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, Russia. Meir, who grew up in Caribou, will launch Sept. 25 for a mission on the International Space Station. NASA photo by Beth Weissinger

Astronaut Jessica Meir, a Caribou native who dreamed for decades of going into space, will take her first trip to the International Space Station on Wednesday.

Meir, 41, and two other crew members are scheduled to launch at 9:57 a.m. from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan aboard the Soyuz MS-15 spacecraft. They will arrive at the International Space Station after a four-orbit, six-hour journey, according to NASA.

Meir is making history as the first woman from Maine – and only the third person from Maine – to go on a space flight. York native Chris Cassidy, who went to the International Space Station in 2009 and 2013, will again travel to space next spring. Cassidy and Meir are scheduled to be on the space station together for several weeks at the end of her six-month mission.

“It’s a little bit surreal. It’s been a lot of work, and I’m very excited for this dream to come true,” Meir said earlier this month in a phone interview from Star City, Russia, where she had been training for her mission.

A flight engineer, Meir will co-pilot the Soyuz MS-15 spacecraft. She will travel to the space station with Oleg Skripochka of the Russian space agency Roscosmos and Hazzaa Ali Almansoori from the United Arab Emirates. Alamsoori is flying on an eight-day mission and is the first spaceflight participant from the United Arab Emirates.

The launch will be broadcast live on NASA TV and through the agency’s website, www.nasa.gov/nasatv. Coverage of the launch will start at 9 a.m. and continue at 3 p.m. Crew members are expected to dock at the space station’s Zvezda service module at 3:45 p.m. At 5 p.m., NASA will air footage of the hatch opening.

About two hours after docking, hatches between the Soyuz and space station will open and the new residents will be greeted by station commander Alexey Ovchinin of Roscosmos, NASA astronauts Christina Koch, Nick Hague and Andrew Morgan, Luca Parmitano of the European Space Agency and cosmonaut Alexander Skvortsov.

NASA astronaut and Expedition 61-62 Flight Engineer Jessica Meir at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, Russia on June 7, 2019. 61S Prime Crew Portraits from GCTC

During her six months on the space station, Meir will work on scientific experiments ranging from studying gravity’s effect on the human body to protein crystal growth to radiation’s effect on humans. There will also be maintenance work to do, which may give Meir an opportunity go on a spacewalk.

“I’m really looking forward to to the opportunity to go out the hatch,” Meir said in a recent interview. “That’s when you really feel like an astronaut.”

Meir grew up in Caribou, where she wrote in her senior yearbook that goal was to go for a spacewalk. She says she first started talking about becoming an astronaut at age 5 and never let go of that dream.

After graduating as valedictorian from Caribou High School, Meir studied biology at Brown University. She earned a master’s degree from the International Space University in France and a doctorate in marine biology from Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego.

For her doctoral research, Meir studied oxygen depletion in diving emperor penguins in the Antarctic. She later 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.

It took three tries for Meir to be chosen for the highly selective astronaut training program, but in 2013 she was among eight people chosen from a pool of 6,000 applicants. At the time, she was working as an assistant professor at Harvard and moved to Houston for a training program at the Johnson Space Center.

She has been training intensely for the past six years, learning skills that range from fixing a toilet in space to navigating a 400-pound spacesuit during a spacewalk. She spent much of the past year and a half in Russia training for her mission.

Meir documents many of her experiences on Instagram, including the last few weeks she spent in quarantine in Kazakhstan preparing for launch. Meir wrote about doing a fit check in the Soyuz spacecraft, testing her Sokol spacesuit and spending time in a spinning chair to condition her neurovestibular system, which governs a person’s spatial orientation and sense of balance.

Last week, Meir planted an elm sapling overlooking the Kazakh steppe, a tradition that started with Yuri Gagarin, the first human to travel to space.

“The Russian space program has many great traditions along the way, I’m cherishing each and every one,” Meir wrote on Instagram after planting the sapling.

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