(KGTV) -- UC San Diego graduate Jessica Meir made history in 2019 as part of the first all-female spacewalk, but now the seasoned astronaut is looking to one day become the first woman to walk on the moon.
Meir, a Ph.D. graduate of Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego, told ABC 10News, "You know, to be honest, sometimes it feels quite surreal to have that kind of flip, when you've always pictured these astronauts in these NASA flight suits. That was the iconic image to me of what I wanted to be when I grew up. And suddenly, I'm on the flip side of that."
On Oct. 18, 2019, Meir and fellow astronaut Christina Koch stepped outside of the International Space Station to complete repairs and other tasks in the first all-female spacewalk.
Meir’s most recent role with NASA has been assisting the agency’s chief astronaut for all things related to SpaceX.
In December 2019, she was also selected as one of 18 astronauts for the Artemis Missions to the moon, with a chance at becoming the first woman to walk on its surface.
"It's just so interesting for us to feel like it may or may not be me," said Meir. “It may or may not be us as individuals, but the fact that we even know the person, it's a colleague or even a close friend, that will be that person -- it is just such an incredibly exciting time to be part of that team."
Like many astronauts, Meir is humble about her own accomplishments while praising teamwork and acknowledging that space travel doesn't happen unless everyone does their part. So, when the world took note of her role in the first all-female spacewalk with Koch, Meir was appreciative, but makes clear that women taking on such ventures should be seen as normal.
As she explained in very practical terms during one on-camera presentation while floating in microgravity on the ISS, "We do spacewalks when things break or have to be replaced on the outside of the space station."
She told ABC 10News, "It was just a normal thing for us to have two women up there doing the job. We had been held to the same training standard as all the men in our class and it just seemed natural. But that really wasn't because of our work, that was because of all of this work that these generations of women, and other minorities before us put in, in really breaking all of those barriers and breaking those glass ceilings to enable us to be where we were today."
Along with working to ensure the readiness of the next crew headed to the ISS, Meir has been doing remote visiting with students and children, letting them know what she's achieved is not out of reach.
"This is for us so meaningful," Meir said, "That maybe we can serve as some kind of mentor, some kind of inspiration for kids growing up now. And for them to realize, that anybody with a dream, really, it can happen. It happened for me and it can happen for them as well."
NASA plans to land the first woman on the moon by 2024, and beyond that, eventually have crewed missions to Mars.
Meir said when a mission is designed for Mars -- to go and come back safely -- she would be happy to be on it.
The first launch: "… this is actually real”
"All of it is such an incredible process and, you know, to think back on all of those different steps of it, I love thinking back to every step,” Meir said.
Weightless aboard a space station for months, floating outside into the void with the vast beauty of earth below -- Meir has countless steps to think back on, including the beginning moments of her venture into space, sitting atop a rocket, waiting for the engines to ignite.
Meir said, "It's interesting, for actually the launch itself, I found myself -- that I had to remind myself -- that I was actually in the rocket that day."
Meir said it's a testament to all the time spent training in high fidelity simulators designed to create an experience as close to the real thing as possible. Also, she was co-pilot, focused on monitoring the systems for any potential problems. Still, the powerful Soyuz rocket was there, nudging its passengers with the message: This is no simulation.
"Sometimes, you would hear or feel something like the rocket groan or move a little bit," said Meir, "And that helped remind you this is actually real."
After ignition, the rocket accelerates from 0 to 17,500 mph in 8-and-a-half minutes. The astronauts inside, while focused on their jobs, are being pressed against their seats at more than three times their body weight, until the distinct moment when they reach orbit, shut down the rocket's main engines and weigh virtually nothing at all.
"You know, you're still strapped into your seat, so you don't just start floating up too much," Meir recalled, "But everything starts floating up. So, your arms start floating up, your pencil, any bit of debris or dirt or dust, anything that had settled to the bottom of the spacecraft just like they would here on your floor, start floating up and you can see that in the air."
Meir said during those first weightless moments, she looked over at fellow first-time space traveler, Hazza al-Mansouri -- the first astronaut to fly from the United Arab Emirates.
"So, I made eye contact with Hazza over there and both of us were just completely wide-eyed, in awe that it was actually happening. And at that moment, you feel a bit like you're a kid hanging upside down on the monkey bars because all the blood that's being pulled down here on earth toward your feet, that kind of shifts upward and you can really feel it in your head, like if you're hanging upside down,” Meir said.
And like a kid on the monkey bars, Meir was in her zone. "I felt really quite right at home floating around from the very beginning.”
One of Meir's areas of study for NASA is the physiological impact of space travel. She said weightlessness can wreak havoc on the vestibular system, which uses gravity to maintain balance and spatial awareness, and does throw some for a loop during their first few days in space.
But she added, "We humans adapt pretty quickly."