ALMATY (Reuters) – NASA astronauts Andrew Morgan and Jessica Meir will take an unusual – and more exhausting – route home after safely landing in the Kazakh steppe on Friday, a Russian healthcare official said, because of lockdowns caused by the novel coronavirus.
A capsule carrying Morgan, Meir and Russian cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka touched down southeast of the Kazakh town of Dzhezkazgan at 1117 local time, as scheduled, after nine months on the International Space Station.
But because all of Kazakhstan’s provinces are in coronavirus lockdown, search and rescue teams could not set up base in Dzhezkazgan or provincial centre Karaganda, said Vyacheslav Rogozhnikov, deputy head of Russia’s Federal Medical Biological Agency.
Instead, the Baikonur cosmodrome located in Kazakhstan and rented by Russia was used as a base and the crew of the Soyuz MS-15 spacecraft will head there after being extracted from the capsule, Rogozhkin said in an interview broadcast online by Russian space agency Roscosmos.
From Baikonur, U.S. astronauts will take a 300km (186 miles) drive to the city of Kzylorda, where they will board a NASA aircraft, he said, adding hours of exhausting land travel after 205 days in space, 3,280 orbits of Earth and a trip of 86.9 million miles.
(Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by David Goodman)