Jessica Meir and Andrew Morgan have witnessed the coronavirus pandemic unfold just like the rest of us, but from a very different vantage point.
The two NASA astronauts say they expect it will be tough returning to such a drastically changed world next week, after more than half a year aboard the International Space Station.
Mr Morgan and Ms Meir held a press conference from the space station on Friday (local time), joined by Christopher Cassidy, who just arrived on the space station the previous day.
Unsurprisinly, the coronavirus dominated the questions they received.
Mr Morgan said the crew has tried to keep atop the pandemic news. But it’s hard to comprehend what’s really going on and what to expect, he noted, when his nine-month mission ends next Friday (local time).
“It is quite surreal for us to see this whole situation unfolding on the planet below,” said Jessica Meir, who took part in the first all-female spacewalk in October.
“We can tell you that the Earth still looks just as stunning as always from up here, so it’s difficult to believe all the changes that have taken place since both of us have been up here.”
As an emergency physician in the Army, Mr Morgan said he feels a little guilty coming back midway through the medical crisis.
“It’s very hard to fathom,” Mr Morgan told reporters.
Ms Meir said it will be difficult not being able to hug family and friends, after seven months off the planet. She anticipates feeling even more isolated on Earth than in space.
“We’re so busy with so many other amazing pursuits and we have this incredible vantage point of the Earth below, that we don’t really feel as much of that isolation,” Ms Meir said.
“So we’ll see how it goes and how I adjust.
“But it will, of course, be wonderful to see some family and friends, at least virtually and from a distance for now.”
Mr Morgan flew to the space station last July, and Ms Meir last September. They will return in a Soyuz capsule with Russian Oleg Skripochka, landing in Kazakhstan.
Their departure will leave three astronauts, who arrived Thursday, on board.
The three will return exactly 50 years after the Apollo 13 astronauts splashed down in the Pacific. An oxygen tank explosion aborted the moon-landing mission.
“Once again, now there’s a crisis and the crisis is on Earth,” Mr Morgan said.
Mr Cassidy, the space station’s new arrival, experienced how different things were on Earth before arriving on the space station Thursday.
It’s Mr Cassidy’s third spaceflight and he said the launch was perfect and that “it never gets old.” But his family, and many others, couldn’t attend the launch.
As usual for astronauts before a launch, he spent two weeks in quarantine.
“We knew we would be in quarantine, but we didn’t know the rest of the world would join us,” he said.