I was very excited to see Comparative Physiologist and astronaut Jessica Meir listed among Time’s 100 most influential people of 2020. Together with astronaut Christina Koch, who was also named among the top 100, the astronauts performed the first all-female spacewalk at the International Space Station in 2019. In all, the pair completed three spacewalks while aboard the International Space Station. It is hard to imagine how challenging it must be to do even the simplest of tasks while on a moving station in space. While they claimed to “just be doing their job”, they also made history and will no doubt continue to inspire generations.
Prior to becoming an astronaut, Meir was a Comparative Physiologist that specialized in studying extreme adaptations in animals. She spent her undergraduate years at Brown University in Rhode Island followed by a obtaining her master’s degree from the International Space University in Strasbourg, France. While a doctoral student at Scripps Institution of Oceanography (University of California, San Diego), she studied the physiology of diving birds and mammals. During her postdoctoral studies at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, she studied high altitude adaptations in bar-headed geese.
In an interview conducted by the American Physiological Society for The Physiologist magazine Meir stated, “We need to understand the effects that the space flight environment and microgravity have on the human body. We’ve definitely made impressive progress over the now decades of research of human spaceflight, but there still are some pretty big unanswered questions, particularly those dealing with radiation.” As a physiologist, her research with NASA continues to explore adaptations to extreme environments. Among her other tasks aboard the space station, her research included human adaptations to prolonged time in space, which will be important to understand if humans are to travel beyond the confines of our own planet and moon. One of the projects she worked on with other scientists at the International Space Station was designed to examine how time spent in space changes blood vessels as well the heart in comparison to how they function after returning to Earth.
You can see Meir’s complete interview here, which includes details on other research projects she has carried out in space and what extreme animal she thinks might adapt well to microgravity.
Also be sure to check out this prior post on what Meir has to say about what hibernating animals and astronauts have in common.
The Physiologist, American Physiological Society