NASA selects former San Diegan Jessica Meir for astronaut training

SAN DIEGO - After a four-and-a-half-year search that included applications from 6,000 people, eight people -- including one with San Diego ties -- have been chosen for NASA astronaut training.

Jessica Meir, a 35-year-old biologist and graduate of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, is ecstatic and overwhelmed about her new career.

"It's really still incredibly shocking and a bit surreal," she said.

It's a dream come true for the assistant professor of anesthesia at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital.

"It was ... I think I started saying I wanted to be an astronaut since I was 5 years old," Meir said.

She was in the third grade the day the space shuttle Challenger exploded.  

"It was such an incredible tragedy, but it didn't take away ... didn't diminish that dream that I had," she said.

Meir was drawn to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography for graduate studies from 2003 to 2009, and she greatly impressed her professors with her intelligence, drive and versatility.

Research Prof. Jerry Kooyman with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography said, "She's an excellent pilot. I've flown with her a number of times; she's a natural. She's an outstanding scuba diver, under ice and going to depth; and an outstanding physiologist and that's most important."

Meir's resume is a catalog of adventures in nature, which should serve her well at NASA. Her research into the physiology of birds and marine animals can help astronauts deal with the fragile and taxing environment of zero gravity.

During a Skype interview, she told 10News about some of her projects, "Doing research with the emperor penguin in Antarctica, working with seals on the beaches of California and working with bar-headed geese in wind tunnels, and even getting to Mongolia once."

She loves a complex challenge, saying, "... and I think NASA is really the culmination of that kind of thing; really the ultimate in combining physical and mental challenge."

A few years ago, Meir worked in an office overlooking the Pacific. Now, if all goes well, she'll have a view of the entire planet.

"I'm absolutely thrilled," she said.

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