Three NASA astronauts aboard the international space station answered questions in a press conference about what it was like to watch the coronavirus situation unfold from far away.
"It's surreal for us to see it unfolding on Earth below. It still looks just as stunning as always, it's difficult to believe all the changes that have taken place," said Jessica Meir, who will have been in space for a total of seven months when she returns on April 17."It will be difficult to not give hugs to family and friends after being up here for seven months," Meir added. "I think I will feel more isolated on Earth than here because it's expected up here."
Andrew Morgan is returning with Meir in April and will have been on board for nine months come their return. He offered advice on how to stay cooped up for long periods of time. "One of the most important things is to live by routine, that's what we do up here, we have a schedule, and we follow it to a T," he said.
"We make sure that we're the most efficient and most effective with our time," adding that from exercise and personal hygiene to sleep, everything they do is on schedule.
"Sticking to a schedule is important, but so is being a good crew mate," Morgan added. "We think about how our actions affect others; it's something we do all of the time. We're constantly evaluating and making sure that we're respectful of others," he said."It can be very hard to do when you're living with other in close quarters."
When asked about hope during the global crisis, Meir answered, "We can try to find the silver linings and positive elements." Using an example of the connections that her friends and family have "been able to foster with loved ones," she says that the coronavirus pandemic has been able to bring "that innate human element out, reminding us of our priorities."
Astronauts on long-term space missions always expect the Earth to change even just a little, according to Morgan. "We can watch news up here, and we've been talking to friends and families to try to paint a picture," he said. "But from up here, it's hard to understand what has transpired and how life will be different when we return."
Morgan, selected by NASA as an astronaut in 2013, also serves as an emergency physician with the US Army. "As an emergency physician, I know what it's like to be in a hospital or on the front lines of a field hospital," Morgan said. "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."
Meir spoke of how hard it was to not be part of the effort to help from above when she spoke for the whole team, expressing the team's gratitude for "everyone working on the front lines, putting their lives on the line for all of the human race down there."
Down below, ground teams such as flight and mission control have been affected by the pandemic. Handovers between teams across shifts have been occurring in two different rooms to minimize contact, Morgan said.
Chris Cassidy is the only one to experience how things have changed on Earth as he only just arrived to the space station on Thursday. Having to go into a routine, two-week quarantine before take off, he said, "We knew we would be in quarantine, but we didn't know the rest of the world would join us."