When astronauts return to Earth, they’re often given an opportunity to sit down and alter to being again in Earth’s gravity. Plummeting by means of the ambiance 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 calm down 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 attempting to get again dwelling,” Meir mentioned.
The drastic measures had been taken due to the coronavirus pandemic, which Meir, Morgan and Russian cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka noticed from the Worldwide House Station till they returned dwelling this month. Border closings and different journey restrictions brought on by the pandemic pressured 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 mentioned. “I might have cherished to remain up there longer, and particularly coming dwelling to a very completely different planet just like the one we have returned to. It is an attention-grabbing transition.”
As soon as again within the U.S., Meir and Morgan entered a weeklong quarantine at NASA’s Johnson House 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 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 additional conservative with what we had been uncovered to first upon coming again,” Meir mentioned, including that returning astronauts are physiologically just like folks with compromised immune programs.
Nonetheless, she mentioned, being again dwelling 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 mentioned. “It regarded simply as beautiful, equally as gorgeous, because it had at the start occurred. And to then take into consideration what was taking place on the floor and that each particular person, all 7½ billion folks on the planet, had been being affected by this and solely three of us who had been in house on the time weren’t. That was actually troublesome to understand, as nicely, that we had been the one three people that it wasn’t affecting our lives in a roundabout way.”
However Meir mentioned that wanting again on the planet from the station’s orbital perch did supply a singular perspective on the unfolding state of affairs, and she or he cited examples of astronauts who had been in house throughout different main occasions in historical past, together with the terrorist assaults of Sept. 11, 2001.
“There was truly 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 actually now not existed,” Meir mentioned. “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 instances, months.
As a self-described “hugger,” Meir was wanting ahead to reconnecting with household and associates, 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 mentioned. “That is not the way in which our society is constructed. So, to me, this can be a lot harder to cope with, 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 house, Meir made historical past in October by collaborating 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 mentioned the next outpouring of public assist helped her and Koch perceive the importance of the milestone.
“It could have been an incredible spacewalk regardless of who I went out the door with,” she mentioned. “But it surely actually wasn’t misplaced on us how essential it was as an occasion, how noteworthy it was as an occasion for folks — truly way 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 quite a bit to us.”