Breaking News
More () »

Maine's Leading Local News: Weather, Traffic, Sports and more | Maine | NewsCenterMaine.com

Maine NASA astronaut Dr. Jessica Meir gets to talk space with actor Hilary Swank and new Netflix series 'Away'

Two-time Oscar winner Hilary Swank stars in the new Netflix series "Away." Swank spent time talking to Maine astronaut Jessica Meir

SEATTLE — Maine astronaut Jessica Meir is back on Earth, she has been for a while, but we're now learning that while she was in space, Dr. Meir made a Hollywood connection.

Last Friday, Netflix released its show "Away."

It's a sci-fi drama starring Hilary Swank as the commander of an international mission to Mars.

The series is based on an article that ran in Esquire six years ago.

But to prepare Swank for the part, Netflix arranged for her to speak with an astronaut back in February... and if you've watched this show much or remember who was on the space station on the time you can probably see where this is going.

In the project Away, Swank plays Emma Green, an American astronaut who leaves her family behind to command an international crew on a three-year mission to Mars. 

Who better to tell Swank about space than Maine's Dr. Jessica Meir, who at the time, was at the International Space Station. 


Meir and Swank connected during a conversation at NASA's Johnson Space Center. 

Meir tried to explain the beauty of space to Swank. 

"I think the thing that's really extraordinary that I love to look at from up here are the oceans and the currents so you can see where rivers are emptying out," Meir told Swank. "You can see the different colors of the water. When you're in the Cupola looking down on the Earth, that feeling is really difficult to describe and put into words."

Swank, who dreamed about being an astronaut from the time she was a little girl, was impacted by Meir's words. 

"I just got so emotional listening to you talk about that, what a blessing you get to experience that," said Swank. 

When Meir returned to Earth, she got to have another conversation with Swank via Zoom. Swank was very interested in how Meir saw the world post-COVID-19 pandemic. 

"It certainly was a bit of a strange climate to return to," said Meir. "From the space station, we actually saw the whole pandemic unfold from space. It was a bit surreal to experience it up from there."

Meir told Swank she had some extraordinary moments when she returned to Earth. 

"You smell Earth," Meir said. "And Earth has this smell that's really, just, kind of in the background all the time, that we don't notice. The smell of trees and life, and things growing. So something you haven't had for quite a while, you really feel it.

Swank sat down with our sister station, KING 5 in Seattle to talk about the Netflix series. 

Swank told KING 5, sacrificing family time to pursue a career is very relatable. "I've been an actress since I was 16, and so I started traveling the world as a teenager without my family. And because I didn't finish school in a normal way, I found that to be a big part of my education."

Hilary's character is leading the mission, but that doesn't sit well with everyone on board. Ato Essandoh plays Dr. Kwesi Weisberg-Abban, a botanist who hopes they'll find that life is sustainable on mars. He explains how the series' narrative of everyone learning to work together despite having different interests relates to our current moment.

"We have had space programs where we are sharing resources with the Chinese and the Russians and the Japanese and all that, so I always wonder why we are so surprised that this is what we have to do for every problem that we need to solve," says Ato, "Whether it's going to Mars, whether it's a COVID pandemic, whether it's racial injustice or any of those things that's how we solve all of our problems."

Shot in Vancouver, the series required actors to spend weeks learning to use wires to simulate zero gravity.

"Every day we were doing a little bit more and a little bit more -- and two weeks later we were up in the air doing flips," says Ray Panthaki. He plays Ram Arya, an Airforce pilot from India.

It's a mission that's truly out of this world.