When astronauts return to Earth, they’re normally given an opportunity to take a seat and modify to being again in Earth’s gravity. Plummeting by way of the ambiance could make for a tough experience, so after crewmembers 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 on 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, close to the place her capsule had touched down. From there Meir and fellow NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan spent one other three hours being pushed to a close-by metropolis for his or her flight again to Houston.
“We known as it the planes, trains and cars model of attempting to get again residence,” Meir mentioned.
The drastic measures have been put in place due to the continued coronavirus pandemic, which Meir, Morgan and Russian cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka noticed from the Worldwide House Station till their return residence this month. Border closures and different journey restrictions because of the pandemic additionally 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 go away,” Meir mentioned. “I’d have beloved to remain up there longer and particularly coming residence 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 Middle. A brief interval of separation is commonplace, however as a result of astronauts on long-duration spaceflights usually expertise modifications to their immune system, 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’s why they needed to be further conservative with what we have been uncovered to first upon coming again,” Meir mentioned, including that returning astronauts are physiologically just like individuals with compromised immune methods.
Nonetheless, she mentioned being again residence has made the pandemic extra actual for her. Although 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 principally continued uninterrupted.
“It actually was this stark distinction as a result of, after all, the Earth did not look any completely different to us,” she mentioned. “It appeared simply as attractive, equally as gorgeous because it had in the beginning occurred. And to then take into consideration what was happening on the floor and that each particular person, all seven-and-a-half 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 effectively, that we have been the one three people that it wasn’t affecting our lives ultimately.”
However Meir mentioned that wanting again on the planet from the station’s orbital perch did provide a singular perspective on the unfolding scenario, and he or she cited examples of astronauts who have been in house throughout different main occasions in historical past, together with the Sept. 11 terrorist assaults in 2001.
“There was really a cosmonaut on an area station in the course of 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 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 folks in states throughout the nation and around the globe 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 briefly on maintain. And although 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 mentioned. “That is not the best way our society is constructed. So, to me, this can be a lot tougher to cope with, 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 collaborating in NASA’s first all-female spacewalk with fellow astronaut Christina Koch.
On the time, Meir was principally centered on executing all of the sophisticated steps of the spacewalk, however she mentioned the next outpouring of public help helped her and Koch perceive the importance of the milestone.
“It might have been a tremendous spacewalk irrespective of who I went out the door with,” she mentioned. “However, it actually wasn’t misplaced on us how vital it was as an occasion, how noteworthy it was as an occasion for individuals — really far more so than I’d have ever anticipated. I used to be actually fairly overwhelmed to see that response and that was very humbling and actually meant lots to us.”