Astronaut Jessica Meir describes her time in space and her return to Earth in conversation with Caribou students

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“I’m sorry it’s not going to be quite as exciting as when I was in space, and my hair is much more boring now,” she said, referring to her last video call with students from aboard the International Space Station. Students asked Meir questions during the Zoom meeting, with the first being what was the worst problem she encountered in space.

Meir said that during a spacewalk, her crewmate Christina Koch’s lights came off her helmet shortly after the pair had left the space station. When a student asked if at any point she regretted going into space, Meir said, “absolutely not.”

“It made things much more interesting for us, and it’s just a really important lesson to remember that you always have to be ready and agile to adapt to a problem, because that’s just life. Things usually don’t go according to plan, so you have to be ready for that,” she said. “It was something I thought about doing since I was 5 years old,” she said. “I said this many times during the mission, but it was even more incredible than I’d ever imagined, which is really saying a lot because I had some pretty big expectations. So no regrets, and like I mentioned I would’ve rather stayed up there longer.”

The lights can’t be reinstalled while on a spacewalk, because astronauts need to take their gloves off to reattach the device. Meir said they weighed the advice from the team on the ground, then were able to detach the lights, secure them with a tether and allow Koch to use Meir’s lights or the sun when it was available. “When the sun is shining, you don’t really need the light so much, but of course we’re going around the planet every 90 minutes,” Meir said. “So we’re going in and out of complete sunlight and complete darkness, and when it’s dark you need those lights.”

“You can literally feel gravity, because your body has adapted to months and months of not having it,” she said. “Coming back isn’t fun. You’re really tired as you’re readapting and I kept saying ‘Man, gravity is overrated.’ My neighbor put it pretty well, he’d say ‘What’s wrong Jessica, has gravity got you down?’” Returning to Earth was actually more difficult than going into space because it can take a while for the body to readjust to gravity, she said. The lack of gravity in space creates more separation between the discs in an astronaut’s backbone, resulting in lingering back pain once the person returns to Earth.

Another student asked if Meir thought aliens were real. Meir said that even though some people may laugh at that question, or the thought of aliens, that it was a great inquiry. Meir also had to adjust to life amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which she said was strange for the returning astronauts to wrap their heads around. “Sometimes we thought that we were in some bad science fiction movie where they pan to the space station and Earth gets hit by a meteor, everyone goes extinct, and it’s up to us to repopulate the entire planet,” she said. “Luckily things weren’t that bad, but coming back was definitely an adjustment.”

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