Date May 9, 2024
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NASA astronaut and Brown alumna Jessica Meir to deliver Baccalaureate address

Meir, a graduate of Brown’s Class of 1999, will return to the University during Commencement and Reunion Weekend to share insights from her record-setting experiences and advice for the Class of 2024.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Jessica Meir was always drawn to the natural world. An innately curious child born to Israeli and Swedish immigrants in the small town of Caribou in northern Maine, Meir resolved at age 5 that she would one day become an astronaut.

Far from a fleeting childhood dream, her ambition deepened with time. In 2013, after decades of education, mentorship and her own unwavering diligence, NASA selected Meir as part of its 21st astronaut class. In 2019-20, she spent 205 days in space and completed 3,280 orbits of the Earth while serving as a flight engineer onboard the International Space Station, and made history as part of the first all-woman spacewalk.

“I didn’t know if this thing I was holding on a pedestal and dreaming of my entire life would completely live up to my expectations, but it was even more incredible than I imagined,” Meir said of space travel. “I was able to look back and know that all that hard work was worth it.

Her perseverance to achieve her dream will be part of Meir’s message to Brown University’s Class of 2024 when she delivers the Baccalaureate address on Saturday, May 25, during Commencement and Reunion Weekend. A graduate of Brown’s Class of 1999, Meir plans to reflect on her four years at Brown, which served as a launchpad for her career as a scientific researcher and astronaut.

“I conducted my very first scientific experiments at Brown,” said Meir, who concentrated in biology. She also got early lessons in the geology of the Moon as well as an initial connection with NASA’s space program, taking a class with Brown planetary scientist Jim Head, who conducted pioneering research in lunar geology and helped to train astronauts who explored the Moon during the Apollo missions.

Jessica Meir


Video: NASA astronaut and Brown alumna Jessica Meir announces that she'll deliver the Baccalaureate address to Brown's Class of 2024.

“I want to share with the graduates how much more rewarding things are when you foster relationships with mentors and you stop and really appreciate those moments,” Meir said.

Those moments are part of what Meir remembers fondly from her time on College Hill. She also recalls the lush grass of the College Green and other campus open spaces, the shops and restaurants along Thayer Street, and the many hours she logged studying in the “SciLi” and the “Rock,” nicknames for Brown’s Sciences and Rockefeller libraries. A self-described “space nerd,” she dove into Brown’s Open Curriculum and expansive student activities, like the Brown Flying Club, which “gave me the foundations of my flight training,” she said.

“Brown gave me the multifaceted, diverse subject knowledge and exposure to different things that has absolutely benefited me as an astronaut,” Meir said. “As astronauts, we’re kind of like dilettantes — we dabble in in all of these different subject areas, and we have to have that kind of vast operational range: we have to be able to do spacewalks, we have to be able to fly the robotic arm, we have to be able to conduct the scientific research — but then we may have to fix the toilet the next day.

“We have to be really diverse and have that appreciation, that curiosity and that interest,” Meir continued. “I think that’s something that I really learned at Brown.”

Brown University Chaplain Janet Cooper Nelson, who leads the Office of Chaplains and Religious Life, which organizes the Baccalaureate ceremony, said graduating seniors will enjoy Meir’s interstellar adventures and tales of perseverance and scientific contribution.

“Jessica’s childhood dream of space travel, which inspired and propelled her through the challenges of her Brown degree and on to NASA and the International Space Station, is a path very few travel, and even fewer women,” Cooper Nelson said. “She embodies a brilliant mixture of vision, humility and commitment that will inspire and delight the Class of 2024.”

The Baccalaureate ceremony, which will be held at the First Baptist Church of America in Providence on Saturday, May 25, celebrates graduates before they earn their degrees at Commencement the following day and honors the many spiritual and cultural traditions of the Brown community. The ceremony will be livestreamed on the Commencement webpage.

About Jessica Meir

NASA astronaut and marine biologist Jessica Meir spent 205 days in space in 2019-20 while serving as a flight engineer onboard the International Space Station, contributing to experiments in biology, Earth science, human research, physical sciences and technology development. During her mission, she made history when she conducted the first three all-woman spacewalks.

Jessica Meir in spacesuit
NASA astronaut Jessica Meir

As a scientist with Lockheed Martin’s Human Research Facility at the NASA Johnson Space Center, she supported research in human physiology on the space shuttle and the International Space Station from 2000 to 2003. She served as a crew member in the Aquarius underwater habitat with a NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations team. She also took part in Smithsonian Institution diving expeditions to the Antarctic and Belize. For her Ph.D. and post-doctoral work, and subsequently as an assistant professor at the Harvard Medical School/Massachusetts General Hospital, Meir studied the physiology of animals in extreme environments, ranging from emperor penguins in the Antarctic to the high-flying bar-headed goose.

In 2013, Meir was selected as one of eight members of the 21st NASA astronaut class — her preparation included intensive instruction in International Space Station systems, robotics, physiological training, T38 flight training and water and wilderness survival training. In 2018, she was named one of the first astronauts for Artemis, NASA’s exploration program that will return humans to the Moon.

Meir earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from Brown University in 1999, a master’s degree in space studies from the International Space University in 2000, and a Ph.D. in marine biology from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego in 2009. In 2021, Brown awarded Meir an honorary doctor of science degree in recognition of her contributions to the field of science and space exploration.

Meir lives in Texas with her husband and their daughter.