Astronaut, Andrew Morgan gestures shortly after the landing of the space capsule in Kazakhstan.
Gulf Today Report
Three crew members of the International Space Station (ISS) returned to Earth on Friday after spending several months in the orbiting laboratory, NASA said.
Andrew Morgan, Jessica Meir and Oleg Skripochka touched down in central Kazakhstan since the World Health Organisation declared COVID-19 a global pandemic in March.
While crew members of the ISS are accustomed to living in isolation, this is not something they would look up to after their return to Earth.
But as fate would have it, most people in the world are now learning to maintain "social distancing" in a bid to contain the spread of COVID-19 that has infected over 2 million people globally.
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Morgan had been on the ISS since July last year, while Meir and Skripochka arrived in September.
"TOUCHDOWN! Welcome home, Oleg Skripochka, Andrew Morgan and Jessica Meir!" Russia's Roscosmos space agency wrote on Twitter.
Unusually, NASA and Roscosmos did not show live footage of the trio parachuting down in their Soyuz landing capsule.
Subsequent footage from the landing site showed recovery crews wearing face masks and rubber gloves as they hauled the crew members out of the Soyuz MS-15 capsule, which was lying on its side.
"Please keep your distance," one ground crew member could be heard telling another.
While the trio's landing site southeast of the Kazakh town of Dzhezkazgan is the same as for previous crews, the pandemic has forced changes to mission-end protocol.
The crew will not be flying back home via Kazakhstan's Karaganda airport as usual because it has been shut down, like so many other airports across the world.
Instead, Skripochka will fly from the Baikonur cosmodrome used to launch missions to the ISS while the NASA duo will take off in a plane from the steppe city of Kyzlorda after a drive of several hours.
In a media appearance aboard the ISS prior to her departure, Meir said it would be difficult to forego embraces with family and friends as she gets to grips with a new culture of physical distancing on Earth.
"I think I will feel more isolated on Earth than here," reflected Meir, who made history as one half of the first all-women spacewalk along with NASA colleague Christina Koch in October.
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