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ISS Crew Returns to Earth Amid Coronavirus Pandemic


The US-Russian space crew landed safely in the steppes of Kazakhstan, was greeted with precautions 

After spending more than 200 days on the International Space Station, a Soyuz landing capsule containing a crew of two NASA astronauts and a Roscosmos cosmonaut, landed safely in the area about 150 kilometres southeast of Dzhezkazgan in central Kazakhstan on April 17 at 05.16 GMT. American astronauts Jessica Meir and Andrew Morgan, and Russian cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka were greeted by the search party with extra precautions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In a video posted by US space agency NASA, the crew is being greeted by a rescue team wearing masks. The trio has been undergoing post-flight testing and strict quarantine. 

During a recent video call, Ms Meir said, “It’s quite surreal to see it unfolding on Earth below. From here, Earth looks just as stunning as usual, so it’s hard to believe all of the changes that have taken place since we left.” 

In a normal land and search missions, the rescue team would pick up the crew and bring them to the nearest airport, from where they would fly home. But due to the pandemic, Kazakhstan has declared an emergency, therefore, most of the air travel is suspended. As an alternative, the crew will be flown to Baikonur space launch pad, leased by Russia from Kazakhstan, and from there Mr Skripochka will take a plane home. Mr Morgan and Ms Meir will be driven for three hours southeast to Kyzylorda, from where they’ll be flown to the US by a NASA plane.

On his first flight into space, Mr Morgan completed a 275-day mission. He conducted a total of seven spacewalks, out of which four were to improve the life of station’s Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, responsible for detecting dark matter in the universe. Ms Meir and Mr Skripochka completed a 205-day mission where Meir conducted the first three all-women spacewalks with her crewmate Christina Koch, who returned from space in February. A replacement crew of two Russians and one American flew to the ISS on April 9. The ISS is a joint project of five partners- the US, Russia, Canada, Japan and the European Space Agency. It has been orbiting the Earth since 1998.