Story at a glance
- Two NASA astronauts returned to Earth on April 17 after more than 200 days in space.
- In the time since they had left the planet, the coronavirus pandemic had broken out and changed the world as they knew it.
- Their landing procedures were altered out of concerns over the spread of COVID-19.
For months, NASA astronauts Andrew Morgan and Jessica Meir, and Russian astronaut Oleg Skripochka, had watched the outbreak of COVID-19 and its spread across the globe from the International Space Station.
"It really was this stark contrast, because, of course, the Earth didn't look any different to us," Meir told NBC News. "It looked just as gorgeous, equally as stunning, as it had before everything happened. And to then think about what was going down on the surface and that every person, all 7 1/2 billion people on the planet, were being affected by this and only three of us who were in space at the time weren't. That was really difficult to comprehend, as well, that we were the only three individuals that it wasn't affecting our lives in some way."
Expedition 62 returned to Earth at 1:16 a.m. EDT in Kazakhstan on April 17. But the world they came back to was much different than the one they left in September.
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With borders closed and travel restrictions in place, NASA and Russia's space agency had to make changes to the standard recovery process. After landing, the astronauts took a helicopter to Baikonur, Kazakhstan, and then Morgan and Meir were driven to a plane in a neighboring city, Kyzlorda, which took them back to Houston, where they were quarantined for a week.
"We called it the planes, trains and automobiles version of trying to get back home," Meir told NBC News.
NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and Roscosmos’s Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner have taken their places aboard the ISS, but Meir said she could’ve used some more time.
"I wasn't really ready to leave," Meir told NBC. "I would have loved to stay up there longer, and especially coming home to a completely different planet like the one we've returned to. It's an interesting transition."
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