NASA astronaut Jessica Meir talks about her new Artemis assignment and spacesuit struggles
11:07

NASA astronaut Jessica Meir talks about her new Artemis assignment and spacesuit struggles

Science
So I mean to start congratulations on being selected to the Artemis team. Which means among other things that you're basically a finalist to be one of the next humans and, and first woman to visit the moon. So I guess to start, tell me what this new assignment means to you and what you're looking forward to most. Yeah, it is incredibly exciting, it's just an amazing time to be an astronaut right now, for me, I just came back from my first mission, which was onboard the International Space Station for almost seven months. I landed in April, so I'm still basking in the glory of that first space mission and this is just sugar on top of that and thinking about our next step. We've had this continuous presence on the ISS for 20 years now, and it makes sense that we are ready to take that next step to explore beyond low Earth orbit and to go back to the moon. And so I think that's one of the main things that it means to me is just that spirit of exploration. And I've always thought that is just an essential and inherent part of all of us as humans. If we hadn't explored the rest of this world, we would have never would have even found all of our own continents. So it's just part of us in that human ethos to go further to look around the corner. And that next destination makes sense, but it's the moon and as a scientist, it means even more because there is a wealth of scientific opportunities waiting for us on the moon and eventually. All the way on Mars as well. That science that was conducted during the Apollo missions changed the way that we look at our solar system. And we're still learning these [UNKNOWN] samples every day. There's so much yet to discover and once Artemis will be going to new locations with entirely new much more sophisticated technologies So there's a huge array of different types of scientific questions that we'll be able to answer. And I think all of those intangible elements, aside from just exploration and science, when you look at what the Apollo missions did, stimulating that vast participation and growth of all of the STEM fields So science, technology, engineering, math. You had this huge effort put into stimulating that growth. So many students were investing in that. And that has had ramifications for decades now that have really shaped our society far that [UNKNOWN] space exploration. You mentioned that you just got back from the International Space Station earlier this year, and you have This bio in a resume. That is impressive. It's impressive for even an astronaut which is really saying something. You've done that seven months then on the space station, which included the first all female spacewalks, 21 hours worth of spacewalks. Let's say you're a pilot. You're an aquanaut, who's been on diving expeditions in the Antarctic, you speak fluent Swedish and Russian You have a doctorate in wildlife biology, and you have actually trained geese to fly in a wind tunnel as part of your research. So I mean, something tells me you might have end up going even further than the moon. So I guess what I'm wondering is what drives this kinda person to live this sort of life when Most of us are just watching Netflix. [LAUGH] Well, it all seems normal to me. But I think the thing that unites all of it, is just this spirit of exploration and this innate curiosity. For discovery that kind of scientific curiosity is really what moves everything forward. And I think from the time that I was a kid, I was curious about the world around me. I love being outside. I love nature. I think I think that was fueled from my mom's influence. And I grew up in a really remote area that had great access to trees and forests and lakes. And I just wanted to understand more about the world around me. And that I think is what led to this interest in biology. And from the time I was five, I also said I wanted to be an astronaut. So I really pursued both of those things in parallel. But I think the key for me was just doing the things that I was passionate about and that I was really excited to participate in. And it was those maybe some people would say those kind of higher risk or kind of more adrenaline junkie type things like skydiving or flying airplanes or diving into the Antarctic sea ice. But I think for me, it's that spirit of exploration, maybe doing things that Fewer people have done which means there's so much more to learn from them. And again and all those back I think to that scientific curiosity also seems like a lot of work though. I mean, do you feel like you've had to sacrifice anything to achieve all these things? It absolutely is a lot of work. And I think you know, that's the message I always try to tell kids and people of all ages. To do like I just mentioned the thing that you're passionate about, because that's the only way to really excel and to be happy, but it also does take a lot of hard work and perseverance. To me that hard work has always been worth it because I was doing that thing that I was so passionate about in the end, you know, that's exactly what I felt when I finally made it to space and looked out the window. It was all worth it because you're right. Nothing is without hardship, even though you're mentioning all of the exciting things. There were a lot of times when you know, you had to kind of buckle down and think, Wow, is this really gonna pay off in the end, all this work that I'm doing but it absolutely was I'm curious, what is the hardest part about your job both day to day, and bigger picture, what's the thing in your daily schedule that you look forward to the least and then what has been the biggest challenge, like big picture over the course of your career, that you've overcome, or that you continue to face. Yeah, I think the the most difficult part right now the thing that I look at my schedule and think there are a lot of meetings. So of course being an astronaut, there's a lot of amazing stuff, all the training that we do, whether it's underwater in the spacesuit or flying a jet or training over in Russia how to fly the Soyuz spacecraft that I that I did. Now I'm at this point where I have a new job supporting. SpaceX missions. And so that's a huge learning curve for me and it is a lot of meetings. So just like everybody else, we're sitting in lots of endless virtual meetings and I think everybody knows how that feels after a while. The most challenging thing in our job as astronauts i think is learning how to operate safely and successfully in the spacesuit. Especially the spacesuit that we're still operating in right now. This is something that was designed decades and decades ago. With our new spacesuit that's going to have enhanced mobility, enhanced dexterity. It's going to fit everybody better and we're building and designing that suit now, but the one that we've been operating in are still using on the space station. It requires a lot of both mental and physical fortitude. You weigh over 400 pounds in the suit, it's pressurized. So your bodies kind of out like this. You have a diminished work envelope. And that is during this duration. You mentioned 21 hours. Each of my spacewalks was around seven hours. It's a long time. It's kind of the metabolic equivalent of a marathon and you don't have any food or breaks built in there. So it requires that physical fortitude, so we train for that we spend hours in the soup underwater on the ground and you know, we spend a lot of time in the gym getting ready for that as well. But I think equally as important, perhaps more important even than that physical grit and toughness is the mental component, the mental grit, just like anything that you've ever done that requires the utmost of concentration. do that safely and successfully. It's that mental grit I think that is really trained and emphasized the rest as astronauts. But I think the biggest thing is those are the types of people that we're selecting. So that's probably the most challenging thing that we do. But if you ask me what the highlight wasn't my mission, I would also say the space Spacewalks. So, like a lot of other things in life, sometimes those things that are the most challenging are the most rewarding in the end. One thing that I think I personally look forward to about the Artemis mission is the idea that maybe we'll have high definition live streaming audio and video coming back from the moon. For the first time and I think it'll be incredible. And when you think about going there, there's something like that. Some aspect of it that excites you the most. Yeah, that is a great point. Now one of the things I think a lot about is how to best share this opportunity that I have on the space station. We're so lucky to be the ones up there and it's so important to me to be able to Relay that to the world and share it with everyone. And just like you mentioned, that is one of the prime aspects you know, having actual video even more so than photographs a lot really helps people feel like they're part of it and feel like they're there That was huge for the Apollo missions. And to think how far technology has come since then you're right. I am so excited for that imagery, which will enable us to really bring everybody with us and to make it a mission for the entire planet instead of just for those of us at NASA and those of us lucky enough to be setting foot on the moon. So I would agree with you. That is an incredibly exciting prospect. One last question. You went to the space station in the northern autumn of 2019. And you came back in April 2020. Like right in the middle of the pandemic. Can you talk about the weirdness of that experience and how the last six or so months have been for you? Sure. It was, as you say, very weird. I like to describe it as being very surreal to be up there and watching the whole thing unfold. You know, beneath our very eyes, and it was almost ironic because we're looking out the window and we don't see any changes. The world still looks as beautiful as when we left it. But we knew what was happening was so drastic and tragic and dramatic for everybody on the ground and to think that 7.5 billion people were down there and we're dealing with this virus and three of us in space weren't. It was very strange, kind of like The beginning of a bad science fiction movie, your pan to the space station and there are these three astronauts and then the entire planet is wiped out by some kind of cataclysmic process. And, we joked about that but it was also incredibly serious. Just to. To start mentally preparing what we were coming back to, and it was it did make adjusting to being back on Earth even more difficult. You know, for me all the things that I had started looking forward to. I wasn't ready to come home anyway, I would have Much rather stayed on the space station for a longer time, even without the pandemic. But of course, there are some things, no kinda food snob I'm thinking, well, I'm gonna go to this restaurant and see all these friends and catch up with people that I haven't seen for so long. I'm a big hugger. So I those are the things I was looking forward to. And of course, we couldn't do any of that. So, for me, the isolation back here on the earth that we've all been dealing with Is much more difficult than the isolation in space, because that's just part of the mission that's expected and you're doing all of these other incredible things and there's a reason for that isolation because you're in space. But back here, our society just isn't built for that. We. Aren't set up. I think as humans, even for the biggest introvert, it's difficult to deal with this new society that we have. So it certainly has been an interesting adaptation period getting used to it all. Well we're glad to have you back for a while and, I wish you luck on your new assignment and on future missions and thanks for your time. All right. Thanks very much. It was wonderful. Speaking with you today. Take care.

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