Astronaut and physiologist Dr Jessica Meir visits UK to inspire next generation of female scientists
Physiologist and NASA astronaut Dr Jessica Meir made history in 2019 by being part of the historic first all-female spacewalk, and there’s a chance she may be the first woman on the moon. Dr Meir will be visiting the UK to give The Physiological Society’s 2021 President’s Lecture on 19 November at the Royal Society in London. With NASA’s Artemis programme set to land the first woman on the moon in 2024, Dr Meir hopes she can fulfil her childhood dream of walking in the footsteps of Neil Armstrong.
The first all-female spacewalk, which Dr Meir did alongside Christina Koch, in October 2019 had a profound effect on her. She considers it a moment of tribute to the generations of scientists before her who fought for better opportunities for women in science. Before becoming an astronaut, Dr Meir, 44, began her career path by studying the physiology of animals in extreme environments
As part of her PhD research, she studied the diving physiology of emperor penguins and northern elephant seals, including expeditions to Antarctica and Northern California. She also researched the physiology of animals, specifically penguins, seals and birds in another extreme environment, high altitude. Dr Meir describes the link between this research and her time in space by saying that first the animals were the subjects of her research and now she is the ‘animal’ being experimented on.
During her time in space, the studies in which she was the subject examined how a microgravity environment experienced during spaceflight affect the human body. Understanding this will allow us to monitor astronauts’ health and will be even more relevant to missions requiring a longer stay in space — for example, missions to the moon and to Mars.
Ahead of her visit to the UK to deliver The Physiological Society’s President’s Lecture, Dr Jessica Meir said:
“I’ve dreamed about going into space since I was five years old. Humankind has an inherent desire for exploration. NASA’s Artemis mission will see us return to the moon, which is a stepping stone to exploration of Mars, and even deeper into our solar system.
“Women and minorities historically haven’t had a seat the table. Men’s physiology, perspectives, values, and ambitions have driven most of our exploration. The first all-female spacewalk was a significant moment and a tribute to the generations of women before me who fought for greater opportunities. When I stepped out of the International Space Station, I could picture those women who had pushed boundaries before me.
“The Artemis programme will see the first women on the moon, and I hope to play a role. Inspiring the next generation of scientists and astronauts is part of our mission statement at NASA. In particular, I am passionate about encouraging more women and people from minorities into science. Whether we are talking about the UK or the US, we still have a way to go in terms of social equity.
“One of the main messages I hope to come out of my trip to the UK is that girls and young women are inspired to go into science and break those glass ceilings. It is an honour to be asked to deliver The Physiological Society’s President’s lecture. Throughout it’s 145 year history The Society has sought to raise the visibility of physiology across the world. Physiology plays a vital role in tackling many of the challenges the world faces today, from climate change to COVID-19. As a physiologist and astronaut, I see first-hand the importance of physiological research.