Two NASA astronauts and a Russian cosmonaut have made a safe return from the International Space Station.
Andrew Morgan, Jessica Meir and Oleg Skripochka touched down in central Kazakhstan this morning in the first returning mission since the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a global pandemic in March.
"TOUCHDOWN! Welcome home, Oleg Skripochka, Andrew Morgan and Jessica Meir!" Russia's Roscosmos space agency said in a tweet.
While the trio's landing site southeast of the Kazakh town of Dzhezkazgan is the same as for previous crews, the pandemic has forced a number of changes to mission-end protocol.
Roscosmos said on Tuesday that the crews meeting the trio at the landing site were tested for Covid-19 and will don full-body protective wear.
The crew will also be avoiding the usual staging post of Karaganda airport - shut down like so many other airports across the world - for their respective journeys back to Russia and the United States.
Специалисты завершили эвакуацию экипажа пилотируемого корабля #СоюзМС15 из спускаемого аппарата.— РОСКОСМОС (@roscosmos) April 17, 2020
Specialists have finished recovering the #SoyuzMS15 crew from the descent module. pic.twitter.com/D62xlWHL6m
Instead, Cosmonaut 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, Dr 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.
Isolation Tip #3 & my last from @Space_Station: Maintaining a healthy diet is important because it acts as your body's fuel. See how we prepare our food in space. . . Zero gravity makes eating a lot more fun, but I can’t wait to enjoy my first salad on Earth soon! pic.twitter.com/hhy48UtkJA— Jessica Meir (@Astro_Jessica) April 16, 2020
"I think I will feel more isolated on Earth than here," reflected Dr Meir, who made history as one half of the first all-women spacewalk along with NASA colleague Christina Koch in October.
The International Space Station has been orbiting Earth at about 28,000km/h since 1998.