Astronauts Chris Cassidy and Jessica Meir grew up on opposite ends of Maine, but they’ll spend the next week living and working together 220 miles above the Pine Tree State.

Cassidy, a York native on his third space mission, arrived at the International Space Station on Thursday, joining Meir, who has been in space for 197 days. It is the first time two Mainers have been on the International Space Station at the same time.

Chris Cassidy, second from left, and Jessica Meir, back right, on the International Space Station on Thursday. NASA livestream video

Meir, who grew up in Caribou, is finishing her first six-month stint on the space station. She and Cassidy will live and work together in space before her mission ends next week. He will spend six months on the space station.

Cassidy and Meir are the first two Mainers to spend significant amounts of time in space. Astronaut Charles Hobaugh, who was born in Bar Harbor but raised in Ohio, spent 36 days in orbit during his career.

The Soyuz MS-16 spacecraft carrying Cassidy and Roscosmos’ Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner lifted off at 4:05 a.m. EDT from the Russian-operated Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. They docked at the International Space Station at 10:13 a.m. after a flawless flight, according to NASA.

Two minutes before launch, the space station – with Meir on board – passed over the Soyuz as it waited on the pad.

The Soyuz spacecraft was traveling more than 1,100 mph as it retreated from view, then reached speeds faster than 3,300 mph as it gained altitude. The Soyuz was in orbit nine minutes after launch.

“We are feeling well on board,” Ivanishin, the flight commander, reported in Russian minutes after takeoff.

After the Soyuz docked at the space station, the crews spent two hours going through the process of equalizing pressure between the two vessels.

Cassidy was the second person through the hatch when it opened at 12:28 p.m. With a wide grin, he embraced Meir, who was snapping photos of the arrival. The first task after a round of hugs was lunch for the crew, according to NASA.

The arrival of Cassidy, Ivanishin and Vagner temporarily restored the space station’s population to six people. Also on board are NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan and Oleg Skripochka of Roscosmos. Cassidy will become Expedition 63 commander on April 17 when Meir, Morgan and Skripochka return to Earth.

While on board, crew members of Expedition 63 will welcome the first commercial crew spacecraft carrying NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley. They will arrive on NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 flight test in May.

Cassidy, 49, had been in pre-flight quarantine since early March, when he traveled to Star City, Russia, with his wife. His departure lacked some of the fanfare usually associated with spacecraft launches because of the coronavirus pandemic. Cassidy’s family was not present for the launch.

Cassidy, who lives in Houston with his family, was a standout athlete at York High School, graduating in 1988. He went on to graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1993 and serve four deployments as a SEAL in Afghanistan and the Mediterranean. He also earned a master’s degree in ocean engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2000.

At the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, Expedition 63 crew members Ivan Vagner, left, and Anatoly Ivanishin, center, of Roscosmos and Chris Cassidy of NASA pose for pictures April 3 in front of their Soyuz spacecraft. They took off Thursday for a mission on the International Space Station. Photo courtesy of Roscosmos

Cassidy first traveled to space aboard the space shuttle Endeavour in 2009. On that mission, he became the 500th person to fly in space. In 2013, Cassidy spent 166 days aboard the International Space Station, which traveled 70 million miles orbiting Earth while Cassidy was aboard.

During this mission, Cassidy and other crew members will conduct about 160 science investigations in fields such as biology, Earth science, human research, physical science and technology development.

On Monday, students in Maine will have the opportunity to speak with Cassidy and Meir during an event coordinated by the Challenger Learning Center of Maine and the Maine Space Grant Consortium. The Earth-to-space call will air live at 1:20 p.m. on NASA TV and the agency’s website.


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