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Maine astronaut rockets to late-night TV stardom

Stephen Colbert was tickled to hear that Jessica Meir looks at a picture of him while she exercises on the treadmill aboard the International Space Station.

NEW YORK — Not only is Jessica Meir living among the stars, she has now become a star herself on late-night television.

The NASA astronaut chatted with Stephen Colbert in an interview on CBS's "The Late Show" that aired Wednesday, April 15. 

Colbert has been hosting the program from his home and talking to guests remotely to maintain social distancing during the coronavirus outbreak. But with Meir, he stretched the boundaries of long-distance communication even further by connecting with her on the International Space Station (ISS).

"We're talking to our family and friends and we're watching the news feed, so it's a little bit difficult to believe we are truly going back to a different planet," Meir said to Colbert about the worldwide health crisis. "We were really the only three humans that were not subjected to that at the current time. Billions of humans, everybody was dealing with this in some way or another and the three of us weren't. So it was very strange to see it all unfold."

RELATED: Astronaut Dr. Jessica Meir talks to hometown from space

Meir grew up in Caribou, but the ISS has been her home since her arrival on Sept. 25, 2019, aboard a Soyuz spacecraft that launched from Kazakhstan. 

Her 29 weeks in orbit have left a lasting mark on the space program. Meir took part in the first all-female spacewalk on Oct. 18, 2019. And with the arrival of York native Chris Cassidy to ISS on Apr. 9, 2020, he and Meir formed the first pair of Mainers to visit space together.

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Meir's mission is set to end with her return to Earth on Friday, April 17, 2020. She'll find that a lot has changed in her absence with so much of the global population confined to home to stop the coronavirus from spreading. As someone who is used to being cooped up for an extended period of time, Colbert asked Meir for advice on dealing with isolation.

"Some of the things that help us up here are to continue to get our daily exercise," Meir said. "To keep to a schedule and a routine, those things are important for both our mental and our physical well-being. To make sure that we're playing nicely with others, to treat each other well, kindly, with respect, and to get along well. And also just to keep having a little bit of fun, as well. I think that's very important for your psychological well-being. So every now and then we try to keep things light, maintain our senses of humor. All of those things really help us function together as a happy team living in isolation."

RELATED: Watch the moment Jessica Meir floated aboard the International Space Station

The number of astronauts on the ISS has varied from three to six during Meir's stay. That is similar in size to many of the family units that are riding out the coronavirus outbreak together. And as she told Colbert, the challenges of avoiding conflicts in such close quarters are similar, as well.

"We even have a buzz word for that at NASA. And it's called expeditionary skills," Meir said. "I like to think of it of all the things that parents tell their children, how to play nicely with others, or also the kind of people I'd like to go camping with. All of those features are really important. And it's a great thing to know that that's how we select our astronauts these days."

Even under stay-at-home orders, Mainers on Earth are still able to leave the house for a walk around their neighborhood when we need a break from family members. Aside from a few rare spacewalks, Meir doesn't have that option. But exercise remains an important outlet, and Colbert broke into a smile when Meir said that she is a regular user of the treadmill that NASA named for him.

"I was just on the Colbert treadmill a few hours ago. There's still a picture of you on it," Meir recounted. "It's very important for us to maintain our bone density and our muscle mass. So you are a regular part of our daily routine, Stephen."

Meir is living her childhood dream. When asked about her goals for the future, she was quoted in her senior yearbook at Caribou High School as saying "to go for a spacewalk." And Meir isn't ready for that dream to end.

"I wish I could stay up here longer, actually. I already wanted to before the situation that was unfolding down there," Meir said, but quickly added, "It will be great to see everybody on the ground again, even if it is from a distance."

And, doubtless, nowhere will Meir's homecoming be met with greater pride than here in Maine.


At NEWS CENTER Maine, we’re focusing our news coverage on the facts and not the fear around the illness. To see our full coverage, visit our coronavirus section, here: /coronavirus

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