Moscow, April 18: Spending more than 200 days in the space, three astronauts of the International Space Station (ISS) have arrived on Friday back to the earth that has been drastically transformed due to the coronavirus pandemic ever since they embarked on their trip to space.
NASA said the astronauts Jessica Meir and Andrew Morgan along with Soyuz Commander Oleg Skripochka of the Russian space agency Roscosmos entered to earth. The trio’s landing capsule touched down on the Kazakh steppe in the early hours of Friday. The trio departed the ISS at 9.53 pm EDT Thursday and made a safe, parachute-assisted landing at 1.16 am Friday in Kazakhstan (11.16 am local time), southeast of the remote town of Dzhezkazgan.
Russian officials said they took stringent measures to protect the crew amid the pandemic. The recovery team and medical personnel assigned to help the crew out of the capsule and for post-flight checks had been under close medical observation for nearly a month, including tests for the coronavirus.
“It’s a little bit difficult for us to feel like we’re truly going back to a different planet. We were the only three humans that were not subject to that at the current time. Billions of humans were dealing with this in some way or another and the three of us weren’t."
While it's difficult to even imagine that such things are happening on the planet that they can see below, Meir said, she's still excited to return home, even though it won't be what she expected when she first launched. The astronaut had spoken of how hard it was to comprehend the events going on at home.
Meir and Skripochka, who launched on the Soyuz MS-15 spacecraft on September 25, 2019, spent 205 days in space, making 3,280 orbits of Earth during a trip of 86.9 million miles. During her first spaceflight, Meir conducted the first three all-woman spacewalks with crewmate Christina Koch of NASA, totaling 21 hours and 44 minutes. While Morgan spent 272 days onboard, during which he conducted seven spacewalks. He spent four of those walks improving and extending the life of the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, which searches for evidence of dark matter in the universe.
Besides this, she made history as one half of the first all-women spacewalk along with Nasa colleague Christina Koch in October.
Following the medical check-up, the crew boarded helicopters to Baikonur, the Russian launch site in the Kazakh steppe. From there, Skripochka will travel to Moscow. Morgan and Meir had a long journey ahead of them: a nearly 200-mile drive to the city of Kyzylorda and from there a flight back to the US.
On Thursday, the Russian government coronavirus headquarter reported the first contagion at Star City, which serves as the main hub for pre-flight training of US, Russian and other international crew members of the International Space Station. The Star City also has residential quarters for cosmonauts and support staff. While crew members of the ISS are accustomed to living in isolation, this is not something they would look up to after their return to Earth.
However, the new crew at the ISS, who blasted off from Baikonur last week, had been kept under stricter-than-usual quarantine for a month before beginning their journey to prevent any chance of coronavirus infection. As well as daily medical checks, all living spaces were regularly chemically cleaned. The launch took place without the usual fanfare and guest attendances.