Two NASA astronauts and a Roscosmos cosmonaut returned to Earth today after months-long missions to the International Space Station (ISS) that departed before the coronavirus outbreak.
The trio, NASA astronauts Jessica Meir and Andrew Morgan and Soyuz Commander Oleg Skripochka, landed at 1:16am local time in Kazakhstan, where they were transferred from the landing site to Baikonur, Kazakhstan by helicopter.
From there, Meir and Morgan will be transferred to a NASA plane to fly back to Houston, Texas, the US, while Skripochka will fly to Star City, Russia onboard a Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center aircraft.
Their return marks the end of extensive periods spent aboard the ISS. Morgan spent nine months aboard the space station, having departed on 20 July 2019, while Meir and Skripochka were aboard the ISS for 205 days, having launched on 25 September 2019.
During her time on the ISS, Meir participated in the first three all-woman spacewalks, and conducted numerous experiments, including an investigation into how human heart tissue functions in space. Morgan’s research also focused on the human body, including looking at how fluid shifts in the body can be mitigated.
Astronauts return amid coronavirus pandemic
The successful return to Earth sees the astronauts arrive at a time when around half the world is in lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, and strict social distancing measures are in place.
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With regular communication with Earth, including social media, the astronauts are well aware of how the coronavirus has unfolded.
Shortly before departing the ISS, Morgan tweeted: “50 years ago a crisis in space ended in the safe return of the #Apollo13 crew. Now, during the return of the Soyuz MS-15 crew, the crisis is on Earth. The constant: dedication and ingenuity of the mission control centers around the globe.”
NASA has not said exactly what measures the astronauts will need to take now that they are back on terra firma, although Texas is currently under a stay-at-home order due to the coronavirus, so it is likely that they will self-isolate either with their families or at NASA facilities.
While this may sound like a struggle after spending at least half a year aboard the cramped ISS, the astronauts will be better prepared for a coronavirus-induced lockdown than many on Earth. This is due not only to the training they receive ahead of missions, but the experience of spending such considerable time aboard the ISS, where space and company is limited.
Prior to her departure from the ISS, Meir was even giving isolation advice via her Twitter account, with tips including sticking to a routine, keeping up with daily hygiene and maintaining a healthy diet.