Jessica Meir has been preparing to go into space since she was 5. She went to her first space camp after she finished middle school and she went to a training program at the Kennedy Space Center after her sophomore year at Brown University.
It took Meir three tries to be chosen for NASA’s highly selective astronaut training program, which she started in 2013 and from which she graduated two years later. Last month, NASA announced that Meir will be participating in her first mission.
She’s 41 now.
It still feels surreal, Meir said, on the phone from the Johnson Space Center in Houston. “When I’m sitting on that rocket about to launch, it’s really going to be then that it finally sets in.”
On September 25, Meir will co-pilot a Russian Soyuz spacecraft launching from Kazakhstan with Russian cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka. They will be joined by Hazzaa Ali Almansoori, the first astronaut from the United Arab Emirates.
Meir, the daughter of a mother from Sweden and an Iraqi-Israeli father, holds Swedish and American citizenship. She will be the first Swedish woman, the fourth Jewish woman, and the 15th Jew overall to be part of a space mission.
The mission will go to the International Space Station, where Meir will perform a range of physiological, medical, and chemistry experiments to study the ways in which being in space affects humans. Meir also hopes to do some exploring outside the space station.
“I’m very excited to participate in the science,” she said. “And also the other big thing personally, my dream has always been to go for a spacewalk. There’s never a guarantee — things can always change with the mission when we get up there — but right now per the current plan I will be doing spacewalks as well.”
Meir has spent the last year preparing for the mission. That includes learning Russian and taking training trips to Russia. She has run on an anti-gravity treadmill used to prevent muscle loss in space. She’s had to analyze her food intake and undergo a range of medical tests.
She documents it all on her Instagram page.
The youngest of five children, Meir spent her childhood in Caribou, Maine, though her parents grew up far from there. Her late father was born in Iraq but immigrated with his family to prestate Israel as a young child, later fighting in the country’s War of Independence in 1948. He went on to become a doctor and took a job in Sweden, where he met Meir’s mother, a nurse who was raised in a Christian Swedish family. The couple moved to Maine when Meir’s father was offered a job there.
Though Meir’s mother did not convert, the family identified as Jewish and attended synagogue in the nearby town of Presque Isle. Living in a mostly Christian town, Meir felt different at times but did not experience anti-Semitism.
She says being Jewish is an important part of her identity.
“Personally I’m not really a religious person,” she said, “but I think that my Jewish cultural background is obviously a big part of my culture and especially traditions.”
Astronauts are allowed to bring a number of personal items to the International Space Station. Meir’s include an Israeli flag and a pair of socks with menorahs. (She is a big fan of novelty socks and will include several pair among her possessions headed for the station.)