What does Antarctica have to do with space? Sure, you can maybe see Antarctica from space…but it’s more than just that. Antarctica is one of the most remote, isolated, cold, and dark (or light, depending on what time of year) places on the planet. In some ways, it’s as close as you can get to going to space without leaving the planet.* So it’s no surprise that a few astronauts have had ties to Antarctica. Jessica Meir (@astro_jessica) is one of those astronauts, and she is headed to the International Space Station today!
*One could say the same for the deep sea…which is EVEN HARDER to get to!
Meir’s Ph. D. research looked at what happens to animals’ bodies when they experience low-oxygen events (like diving), specifically elephant seals and…wait for it…emperor penguins! Her post-doctoral work looked at another animal that experiences low-oxygen: the bar-headed goose. Bar-headed geese are the highest-flying birds in the world. (Check out this video as well as this article in the Washington Post if want to see a peek into this research…also BONUS BABY GEESE!!!)
Three years ago, I was headed to Antarctica. While on the ice, I happened to work with a team that was also studying the effects of low-oxygen, this time on Weddell seals (see more about my experiences here). This past summer, one of those scientists, Allyson Hindle, commissioned me to make a drawing for her friend:
Yup, that drawing was for Astronaut Jessica Meir! It was an honor to draw two of her research subjects (in my comical style). I also gave her a preview sample of Jim Ottaviani and my new book Astronauts: Women on the Final Frontier (and of course, I signed it):
For me, the intersection of space and Antarctica comes from my work - Astronauts: Women on the Final Frontier will be out in February, and I’m currently working on a graphic novel about life and science in Antarctica (based on my own experiences there). It’s nice to be reminded that the world can often feel quite small, but in a comforting, unifying way: it’s home for us all…including the astronauts on the ISS looking down upon it.