Three astronauts have returned from long spells on the International Space Station to a world completely changed by the effects of coronavirus.
NASA’s Jessica Meir and Andrew Morgan, and Soyuz Commander Oleg Skripchochka of Russian space agency Roscosmos, departed the International Space Station for their return to Earth on Friday at 01:53 UTC, landing at 05:16 UTC in Kazakhstan.
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Morgan had spent 9 months on the ISS during an epic stay that began on 20 July 2019.
During his mission the ISS orbited Earth 4,352 times and travelled 185.5 million km.
Meir and Skripochka launched together for the space station on 25 September 2019 and spent a total of 205 days on board, making 3,280 orbits and travelling a total of 139.8 million km.
During her mission, Meir took part in the first ever all-woman spacewalks with fellow NASA astronaut Christina Koch, in a series of EVAs (extra-vehicular activities) totalling 21 hours and 44 minutes.
Meir also contributed to a study examining how human heart tissue functions in space.
Morgan, meanwhile, supported investigations into how the human body responds to longer-duration spaceflight
For Skripochka, the mission was his third spaceflight, bringing his total number of days in orbit to 536.
When Morgan, Meir and Skripochka launched from Earth at the start of their missions, they left behind a planet much different from the one that greeted them on arrival, with lockdown measures shutting down social activity across the world.
“50 years ago a crisis in space ended in the safe return of the #Apollo13 crew,” Morgan Tweeted on Friday.
“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.”
Towards the end of her spell on the ISS, Meir had been taking to Twitter to share tips for life in isolation, drawing on her experiences of being physically cut off from the rest of the world.
Isolation Tip #3 & my last from @Space_Station: Maintaining a healthy diet is important because it acts as your body’s fuel. See how we prepare our food in space. . . Zero gravity makes eating a lot more fun, but I can’t wait to enjoy my first salad on Earth soon! pic.twitter.com/hhy48UtkJA
— Jessica Meir (@Astro_Jessica) April 16, 2020
During a press conference from the ISS last Friday, Morgan said: “We can watch news up here, and we’ve been talking to friends and families to try to paint a picture.
“Up here it’s hard to understand what has transpired and how life will be different when we return.”
Meir also remarked on hearing about the effects of Coronavirus back on Earth while still up in space.
“It is quite surreal for us to see this whole situation unfolding on the planet below,” she said.
“Earth still looks just as stunning as always from up here, so it’s difficult to believe all the changes that have taken place.”