American Jewish astronaut to copilot space mission with UAE colleague

Among the three personal items Jessica Meir is permitted to take along on the journey into space, two are symbolic of Jewish and Israeli culture.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Astronaut Jessica Meir will be going on her maiden NASA mission to the International Space Station on September 25 along with a colleague from the United Arab Emirates.

Meir, an American whose late father was an Iraqi-Israeli Jew and whose mother is Native American-Swedish, will copilot a Russian spacecraft with two others on board – a Russian cosmonaut and UAE pilot Hazzaa Ali Almansoori, who will be the first person from his country to go to in space.

Meir, who grew up in a Jewish environment in Caribou, Maine, will be the second person holding Swedish citizenship to go to space, if all goes as planned. Arne Christer Fuglesang, a physicist, was the first Swede to do so, when in 2006 NASA invited him to be a mission specialist on the space shuttle Discovery. He spent 13 says at the International Space Station.

Meir, 41, who specializes in the physiology of animals in extreme environments, plans to go for a much longer time – six months. She will be conducting medical, physiological and chemical experiments to learn more about how staying in space affects human beings, but she also hopes to step outside the space station walls.

Speaking to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA), Meir said, “I’m very excited to participate in the science. And also the other big thing personally, my dream has always been to go for a spacewalk. There’s never a guarantee — things can always change with the mission when we get up there — but right now per the current plan I will be doing spacewalks as well.”

Meir’s Jewish roots come from her late father, who emigrated with his family to pre-state Israel as a child and fought in the War of Independence. He then became a doctor, moving to Sweden for a job and marrying her mother, who was a nurse. They eventually moved to Maine because of her father’s work.

Meir is the youngest of five siblings. The family always identified with the Jewish community, she told JTA, and although she says she is “not really a religious person,” she feels that her Jewish background “is obviously a big part of my culture and especially traditions.”

Each astronaut is permitted to take three personal items along on the journey. Two of those chosen by Meir are symbolic of Jewish culture: an Israeli flag and a pair of socks decorated with menorahs.

Space enthusiasts can follow her training and journey on her Instagram page, where she is known as astro_jessica.