When astronauts return to Earth, they’re normally given an opportunity to sit down and alter to being again in Earth’s gravity. Plummeting by way of the environment could make for a tough journey, so after crew members are pulled from their capsule, they’re taken to a staging space the place they’ll loosen up 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 house, she was whisked aboard a helicopter for a three-hour flight to the 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 known as it the planes, trains and vehicles model of making an attempt to get again residence,” 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 residence this month. Border closings and different journey restrictions attributable to the pandemic compelled NASA and Russia’s house 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 beloved to remain up there longer, and particularly coming residence 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 sometimes expertise modifications to their immune methods, NASA enforced a protracted quarantine to guard the 2 astronauts from any Earth-bound pathogens.
“One thing about that spaceflight surroundings 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 just like individuals with compromised immune methods.
Nonetheless, she stated, being again residence has made the pandemic extra actual for her. Though she had entry to the information aboard the house station and was in common contact with family members, the crew’s day-to-day operations continued largely 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 seemed simply as attractive, equally as beautiful, because it had at the beginning occurred. And to then take into consideration what was taking place on the floor and that each particular person, all 7½ billion individuals on the planet, have been being affected by this and solely three of us who have been in house on the time weren’t. That was actually tough to understand, as nicely, that we have been the one three people that it wasn’t affecting our lives in a roundabout way.”
However Meir stated that trying again on the planet from the station’s orbital perch did provide a novel perspective on the unfolding state of affairs, and he or she cited examples of astronauts who have been in house 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 through 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 feel, 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 around the globe have been dealing with for weeks and, in some instances, months.
As a self-described “hugger,” Meir was trying 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 — dwelling 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 best way our society is constructed. So, to me, it is a lot harder to take care of, notably after being gone for thus lengthy.”
But regardless of the curveball of returning to Earth throughout a world well being disaster, Meir described her mission as a dream come true. Throughout her 205 days in house, 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 targeted 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 will have been a tremendous spacewalk regardless of who I went out the door with,” she stated. “But it surely actually wasn’t misplaced on us how necessary it was as an occasion, how noteworthy it was as an occasion for individuals — 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.”