Pre-Coronavirus Astronauts Return to a Post-Coronavirus Planet

Their arrival coincided with the 50th anniversary of the safe return of the Apollo 13 crew

Astronauts returning to Earth
The Soyuz MS-15 spacecraft is seen as it lands in a remote area near the town of Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan with Expedition 62 crew members Jessica Meir and Drew Morgan of NASA, and Oleg Skripochka of Roscosmos, Friday, April 17, 2020.
NASA/GCTC/Andrey Shelepin

The last month has abounded with stories of people whose missed news of the spread of the coronavirus — some via a Grand Canyon trip, some (Jared Leto, at least) via a meditation retreat. The flip side of that was experienced by a group of astronauts recently; they returned to Earth after over 200 days in space. Alternately, they returned to a planet that had been dramatically changed since they last set foot on its surface.

A vessel containing Jessica Meir, Andrew Morgan and Oleg Skripochka landed in Kazakhstan earlier today. Meir and Skripochka had spent the last 205 days in space; Morgan had been in orbit for 272.

CNN notes in its report that the already-thorough process for checking up on astronauts after re-entry will be even more comprehensive this time out, given the ongoing pandemic. It’s a crisis that the astronauts felt especially connected to from space — particularly Morgan, who CNN notes is an emergency physician for the Army.

“I’m very proud to be part of that profession, but at the same time, I feel guilt that I am as separated from it as I could be right now,” Morgan told CNN.

Today’s date also held a historical significance for NASA: it was the 50th anniversary of the safe return of the crew of Apollo 13.

It’s an unnerving moment of synchronicity between a dramatic event in space exploration’s past and a chaotic time in its present.

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