THREE astronauts have returned to a ‘crisis’ on a ‘changed Earth’ amid Covid-19 pandemic, after seven months in space.
Jessica Meir, Andrew Morgan and Oleg Skripochka were thrown parties before they left Earth in September, hugging friends and family goodbye and shaking the hands of colleagues as the Soyuz MS-15 crew headed off.
But more than 200 days later, the whole world has changed and a virus has made sure things will never be the same.
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All three astronauts landed near Dzhezkazgan, Kazakhstan, on Friday morning, April 10, with NASA tweeting: “Home safe and sound.”
“Today’s landing wraps up a 205-day mission for both @Astro_Jessica and Oleg Skripochka and a 272-day mission for @AstroDrewMorgan. Welcome home!”
Their landing coincided with the 50th anniversary of Apollo 13’s aborted lunar landing mission after the command and service modules were paralysed by explosions.
After post-landing medical checks, the crew returned by Russian helicopters to the recovery staging city in Kazakhstan.
NASA teams at the International Space Station will help the astronauts readapt to Earth’s gravity and get used to things like walking again.
Their health will be monitored for a period of time, and NASA confirmed in light of Covid-19, post-landing procedures will be more extensive.
This includes cleaning of surfaces, social distancing, stringent hand hygiene, and limiting contact with the crew members, CNN reported.
Morgan tweeted from ISS: “Fifty 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 centres around the globe.”
Meir and Morgan said in a press conference they had been following how the virus was unfolding on Earth – but watching from so far away, little seemed different.
“We can watch news up here, and we’ve been talking to friends and families to try to paint a picture,” Morgan said. “But from up here, it’s hard to understand what has transpired and how life will be different when we return.”
Morgan, was selected by NASA as an astronaut in 2013 and also serves as an emergency physician with the US Army.
“As an emergency physician, I know what it’s like to be in a hospital or on the front lines of a field hospital,” he said. “I’m very proud to be part of that profession, but at the same time, I feel guilt that I am as separated from it as I could be right now.”