When astronauts return to Earth, they’re often given an opportunity to take a seat and alter to being again in Earth’s gravity. Plummeting via the ambiance could make for a tough experience, so after crew members are pulled from their capsule, they’re taken to a staging space the place they’ll chill out as medical officers carry out routine check-ups.
Jessica Meir’s return wasn’t like that.
Moments after Meir landed April 17 after greater than 200 days in area, she was whisked aboard a helicopter for a three-hour flight to town of Baikonur in southern Kazakhstan. From there, Meir and fellow NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan spent three extra hours being pushed to a close-by metropolis for his or her flight again to Houston.
“We referred to as it the planes, trains and cars model of making an attempt to get again dwelling,” Meir stated.
The drastic measures have been taken due to the coronavirus pandemic, which Meir, Morgan and Russian cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka noticed from the Worldwide Area Station till they returned dwelling this month. Border closings and different journey restrictions brought on by the pandemic compelled NASA and Russia’s area company to change the usual restoration course of.
Meir returned to a world completely different from the one she left about seven months in the past.
“I wasn’t actually prepared to depart,” Meir stated. “I might have cherished to remain up there longer, and particularly coming dwelling to a totally completely different planet just like the one we have returned to. It is an fascinating transition.”
As soon as again within the U.S., Meir and Morgan entered a weeklong quarantine at NASA’s Johnson Area Heart. A brief interval of separation is normal, however as a result of astronauts on long-duration spaceflights usually expertise modifications to their immune programs, NASA enforced a chronic quarantine to guard the 2 astronauts from any Earth-bound pathogens.
“One thing about that spaceflight atmosphere does have a direct affect on our immune system, and that is why they needed to be further conservative with what we have been uncovered to first upon coming again,” Meir stated, including that returning astronauts are physiologically much like folks with compromised immune programs.
Nonetheless, she stated, being again dwelling has made the pandemic extra actual for her. Though she had entry to the information aboard the area station and was in common contact with family members, the crew’s day-to-day operations continued principally uninterrupted.
“It actually was this stark distinction, as a result of, in fact, the Earth did not look any completely different to us,” she stated. “It regarded simply as attractive, equally as gorgeous, because it had in the beginning occurred. And to then take into consideration what was taking place on the floor and that each individual, all 7½ billion folks on the planet, have been being affected by this and solely three of us who have been in area on the time weren’t. That was actually troublesome to grasp, as effectively, that we have been the one three people that it wasn’t affecting our lives indirectly.”
However Meir stated that wanting again on the planet from the station’s orbital perch did provide a singular perspective on the unfolding scenario, and she or he cited examples of astronauts who have been in area throughout different main occasions in historical past, together with the terrorist assaults of Sept. 11, 2001.
“There was really a cosmonaut on an area station throughout the collapse of the Soviet Union, so he launched as a Soviet citizen after which got here again and was carrying a flag that basically not existed,” Meir stated. “However this, I believe, was much more excessive, simply because it actually was affecting each human, each nation.”
Meir emerged from NASA’s quarantine final week, however she now finds herself in one other type of social isolation — one that individuals all over the world have been dealing with for weeks and, in some circumstances, months.
As a self-described “hugger,” Meir was wanting ahead to reconnecting with household and buddies, however these plans are on maintain. And though her coaching has taught her how to deal with isolation — residing and dealing 250 miles above the planet in an orbiting laboratory roughly the size of a soccer discipline — the expertise of social distancing is markedly completely different on the bottom.
“Right here, it is simply so completely different, since you’re not used to being remoted on Earth,” she stated. “That is not the way in which our society is constructed. So, to me, this can be a lot tougher to take care of, significantly after being gone for therefore lengthy.”
But regardless of the curveball of returning to Earth throughout a worldwide well being disaster, Meir described her mission as a dream come true. Throughout her 205 days in area, Meir made historical past in October by participating in NASA’s first all-female spacewalk with fellow astronaut Christina Koch.
On the time, Meir was centered totally on executing all of the difficult steps of the spacewalk, however she stated the following outpouring of public assist helped her and Koch perceive the importance of the milestone.
“It could have been an incredible spacewalk irrespective of who I went out the door with,” she stated. “However it actually wasn’t misplaced on us how vital it was as an occasion, how noteworthy it was as an occasion for folks — really far more so than I might have ever anticipated. I used to be actually fairly overwhelmed to see that response, and that was very humbling and actually meant rather a lot to us.”