Q: What has it been like to rise through a predominantly male industry as a woman?
Meir: I think things are trending in the right direction at NASA, just like other STEM fields. I never really had the sense that there was something I couldn’t do because I was a woman. When my class got selected in 2013, it was the first one to be 50% male and 50% female. So that just seemed normal. In the astronaut office overall, I think we are about one-third female now, but it’s trending in the right direction. I’ve been very fortunate not to have had as many of the struggles as the generation before us. I hope we get to a point in the future when the first all-female spacewalk isn’t a big deal anymore, but it was a big deal during my mission and I was privileged to be a part of that. For me and Christina (Koch), we didn’t really view it as a hallmark of our own success, because when we arrived at NASA we all received the same training. Everyone was held to the same standard. It didn’t really matter to me if I did the spacewalk with a man or a woman, but that’s not to downplay the historic achievement and what it meant for people. We didn’t always have a seat at the table. It was because of the generations that came before us pushing boundaries and shattering glass ceilings that we are where we are today.
Q: Have you ever doubted yourself along the way?
Meir: Absolutely. In graduate school, I realized that so many of my classmates, particularly the female students, had imposter syndrome. It is this feeling that I’m just lucky to be here; I’m not that smart; I just worked hard. Because of our underrepresentation in STEM, I think that is a real issue for women in those fields. I certainly felt that way, especially in graduate school when you’re figuring out what you’re doing. When you interview to become an astronaut, you meet all of these incredible people and think, “Wow, this is such a cool experience. I’m so lucky to be here, but there’s no way I’m going to be selected because these people are incredible.” All of the people who made it to the final round of selection deserve this position just as much as I do, if not more. But it ends up being a combination of timing and a lot of luck.
Q: Do you ever feel like your work as an astronaut overshadows your other achievements and identities?
Meir: It does sometimes. We get asked the same questions a lot, and I appreciate the opportunity to talk about my past research because I miss it. When you get selected to be an astronaut, you’re usually at the pinnacle of your career, but at the same time you have to give up that whole career. I loved my jobs in academia and as a research biologist, but I had to give those up to pursue this. During one of my vacations a few years ago, I went into the field to be an assistant for one of my colleagues and tag birds in Alaska because I missed that element of working with animals and being outside. Some people asked, “You’re taking a vacation to go do your previous job?” But for me, that was a vacation because I was out doing this thing that I loved.