A crew of three astronauts have returned to a planet that has changed dramatically since they left last year.
NASA astronauts Andrew Morgan and Jessica Meir, and Russian space agency Roscosmos' Oleg Skripochka have each spent more than 200 days at the International Space Station (ISS) but returned to Earth today (Friday 17 April), touching down on Kazakhstan soil this morning.
They were met by crew, who had taken coronavirus tests immediately before receiving them to ensure they were at no risk of being infected. The astronauts will now undergo a rehabilitation programme lasting several weeks - as is standard after a long period at zero gravity - with the doctors who oversee this programme taking extra measures to protect them from Covid-19.
Morgan has been at the ISS since last July, while Meir and Skripochka left Earth in September, meaning the whole crew left well in advance of the spread of coronavirus which now grips the planet.
Speaking in a video call prior to leaving the ISS, Meir said: "It's quite surreal to see it unfolding on Earth below.
"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.
"It will be difficult to not give hugs to family and friends after being up here for seven months.
"I think I will feel more isolated on Earth than here. We're busy with amazing pursuits and tasks and don't feel the isolation."
During their stay at the ISS, the crew carried out hundreds of experiments encompassing the fields of biology, earth science, human research, physical sciences and technology development.
Meir made history last year when she completed the first three all-woman spacewalks with crewmate Christina Koch.
Morgan's extended stay will provide a useful insight into how the human body responds to prolonged periods in space. Over the course of his 272 days in space, he conducted seven spacewalks, totalling 45 hours and 48 minutes.
A replacement crew flew to the ISS last Thursday after spending a month and a half in quarantine before launch to ensure they didn't take the infection into space.
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