Astronaut Jessica Meir and the bitter sweet choices of life
Soon – hopefully very soon – astronaut Jessica Meir will see her name on the LIST. She got through the selection process and is now training full time to get ready for when her name comes up. Being accepted as an astronaut candidate is tough. Statistically you have a 74 bigger chance to get accepted at Harvard that getting through the NASA candidate program.
Would you strap yourself onto a 200 ton rocket with 3 million liter of fuel? Voluntarily that is. The thought alone would probably scare the shits out of most people.
But then again the term ‘most people’ would definitely not be used about someone like Jessica Meir.
Next Stop: International Space Station
In 2015 Jessica Meir completed her training at the NASA Astronaut Candidate program. Ever since that day she has trained to be ready for when her turn comes up to step onto the launch pad and make a breathtaking trip to the International Space Station (ISS).
This education that will prepare her for a coming mission will take some years. But hopefully soon she will be on her way.
No Comfort Zone
However, getting in to that rocket and pushed at full throttle into space is amazingly not something Jessica Meir describes as going outside her comfort zone. She contributes her state of non-fear to the hard selection process at NASA.
NASA is fundamentally picking people who are used to work in strange or isolated environments. You also have to be good at working with others in small groups. An astronaut cannot be frightened of an unique or alternated environments.
“I never really felt uncomfortable in anything that we have done. They do such a good job in selecting the astronauts. My guess is NASA inherently pick people that are used to work in a strange environment.
I never felt I was outside of my comfort zone. Actually I kind of really like those kinds of experiences.”
The Lucky Ones
On the ground there are thousands of highly specialized personnel who are the experts of everything relevant to space flights. Their job is to train the astronauts in order to get them ready for the coming mission as well as keeping them safe during the assignment When the astronauts are on their mission in space they must make sure to perform to the best of their ability in order not to let those people down
“There is actually a lot of pressure on us astronauts to make sure we perform to the best of our ability in order to not let those people down. We the astronauts are the lucky ones to be up there and representing everybody.” Jessica Meir expresses her respect towards the training staff at NASA.
When the astronauts are on their mission in space they must make sure to perform to the best of their ability in order not to let people down
Her first mission will probably be to the International Space Station (ISS). She aim to do the best job she can in order to succeed in the particularly mission goals and tribute to the human space flight program as a whole. Besides that she also hopes for the chance to go spacewalking.
The Bitter Sweet Selection
According to Business Insider it is 74 times easier to be accepted at Harvard compared to getting into the NASA Astronaut Candidate program. So what does it take to make it?
Well, first of all you have to be very passionate about what you are doing. The lucky ones are usually people in their mid-thirties who are already successful about what they are doing. Because you have to show your abilities in a career before you are realistically competitive to be accepted into the candidate program.
“It is a little bit of a bitter sweet when you do get selected since you already have this whole other career.” Jessica Meir explains. Because that’s how it is: To get selected you need to prove your success in your profession. That means you are working with something that you are passionate about but if you get selected you have to let it go.”
Jessica Meir has a degree in Marine Biology and has been studying physiology of animals in extreme environments.” I really loved doing field work and working in the Antarctic and places like that where you are blending mental and physical challenges. That was really fulfilling to me and I really enjoyed it.”
But when asked if she would give it all up for getting her childhood dream job she did not hesitate to say yes.
NASA- the Dream Land
Getting though the candidate program involves a lot of testing- both physical and psychological. To Jessica the most difficult part was the psychological. “Because you are suddenly there! Sometimes when people come down here it can be overwhelming. This has been their dream their whole life. Sometimes they have this view that everything about this is kind of a dream land.”
However, the third and final time Jessica applied she was a bit more relaxed about it all. She had already worked as a NASA scientist for three years. This helped because this time she was not only familiar with how things worked; she also had got to know some of the astronauts already in the program and had learned they were just normal people.
Jessica emphasizes the importance of keeping your calm and act normally through the selection process. It is crucial you make sure your own personality comes out. “We are talking about long duration missions now. We are spending six month at a time on the space station with a small crew. Psychological and personality factors are a much bigger part of the selection now that it used to be. I think physiologically probably the most difficult part is making sure you are showing your inherit traits during that whole interview process. “
Jack of All Trades
Astronauts of today need to have a diverse skill sets. It is no good only to be really, really good at one thing. To be selected the candidates must be a jack of all trades as Jessica Meir explains it:
“On a space station, even though I have to do all the science, I also have to be able to go for a spacewalk if something needs to be repaired on the outside. I need to be able to fix the toilet if it breaks or know how to change a light bulb. Basically know to deal with anything of hardware up there.”
The ground training is covering every thinkable situation that can happen on a mission. This is why Jessica spent two weeks at Ellington Field Joint Reserve Base working with the air plane mechanics. She learned how to maintain the machinery and use various kind of power tools. All in the quest of getting more of those skills that might turn out to be crucial on a space station.
We don’t want people to freak out!
On the ground a training department surrounds the candidates. All the people on the ground are there helping the astronauts.
“Any emergency situation you might have on a space station like a fire or a depressurization or a toxic leak. These are actually things that we practice so much that we have them as memorized responses.” Jessica Meir explains about the detail of her extensive training.
The goal is, in case of an emergency the training kicks in and the astronauts reacts instantly and automatically. They take all emotional reaction like panicking out of the equation. As far as possible they know exactly what to do.
“NASA do not want people who get scared or freak out and think OH NO what do I do now?! We know exactly what to do.” Off course you can’t anticipate everything problem but because they have so much experience now in space flight in general they have such a great training team and they are really good at anticipating pretty much anything that might come their way
“We are really prepared for it and that helps you deal with those kinds of things because you are not processing them emotionally you are just acting and dealing with that later.”
That Fragile Blue Ball
“One thing that really compelled me is that feeling of looking down at the earth below us. That fragile blue ball of every person you ever known. Every place you ever been. Every experience you ever had – all there below us. And off course no boundaries, no borders seen from space.
Jessica Meir applied three times before she made it into the candidate program. Off course she felt disappointment the two times when she did not make it. But in the end she knew she had to keep following her dream. If she did not try again she would always wonder what if…
“I thought the chances are it is not going to happen anyway. But if I didn’t apply I will always be left questioning that maybe it would. I thought: Why worry and stress about a decision when I do not even have one to make right now?”
In the end she got her dream job.
All pictures are with courtesy from Jessica Meir and NASA.
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