Last time Jessica Meir, Andrew Morgan and Oleg Skripochka were on Earth, there were house parties, happy hours, handshakes, crowded concerts and no one was yet talking about the novel coronavirus that has reshaped daily life across the world.
More than 200 days since they each embarked on their trip to space, things are different. All three astronauts landed Friday morning near Dzhezkazgan, Kazakhstan.
“Home safe and sound,” NASA said in a tweet Friday morning. “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!”
Friday also marks 50 years since astronauts aboard Apollo 13 were forced to abort their lunar landing mission – after explosions crippled the service module and command module – and safely landed in the Pacific Ocean.
It’s an almost ironic parallel.
“50 years ago a crisis in space ended in the safe return of the #Apollo13 crew,” Morgan wrote on Twitter 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.”
In a press conference last week, Meir and Morgan said they had been keeping up with how the virus was unfolding on Earth – but watching from so far away, little seemed different on our planet.
“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.”
NASA’s protocol for astronauts returning to Earth includes a post-landing medical check as doctors and other NASA teams help the astronauts re-acclimate to Earth’s gravity and get used to things like walking again. In the weeks after the landing, their health continues to be monitored.
But with a deadly virus now on the loose, NASA says the post-landing procedures will be more extensive.
“NASA will closely adhere to the CDC’s recommendations on infection control for the coronavirus as Andrew Morgan and Jessica Meir return to Earth and begin their post-flight medical testing and re-adaptation period,” Courtney Beasley, a spokesperson at NASA’s Johnson Space Center previously said.
“This includes cleaning of surfaces, social distancing, emphasizing hand hygiene, encouraging NASA team members who are sick to stay home and limiting contact with the crew members.”
CNN’s Ashley Strickland contributed to this report.