It was a history-making six months in space for NASA astronaut Jessica Meir but on Thursday, it was finally time for the UC San Diego alum and Maine native to come back to Earth.
Meir and her comrades -- NASA's Andrew Morgan and Russian cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka, known as the Expedition 62 trio -- have completed their mission and were due to depart the International Space Station Thursday evening in the Soyuz MS-15, the same spacecraft that took them there on Sept. 25, 2019.
As planned, the group landed safely Friday in Kazakhstan at 11:16 a.m. (0516 GMT). The astronauts were greeted with extra precautions due to the coronavirus.
According to this report, the recovery team and medical personnel assigned to help the three out of the capsule and to perform post-flight checks were under close medical observation for nearly a month before the landing and were tested for the coronavirus. Dmitry Rogozin, director of Russia's Roscosmos space corporation, said the three astronauts were feeling well.
While on the ISS, the team conducted hundreds of experiments in biology, biotechnology, physical science and Earth science inside a microgravity laboratory, work they will now be handing off to the next crew -- Expedition 63.
After a few goodbyes, the crew's journey home began at 3:30 p.m. PST Thursday for a seven-hour descent back to Earth. A parachute would bring the astronauts to land in Kazakhstan. The event was livestreamed on NASA's website.
Watch their journey home below starting at 3 p.m.
It was the first trip to space for Meir, and a historic one, at that. The astronaut teamed up with her colleague and friend, NASA astronaut Christina Koch, to conduct the first all-female spacewalk, spending 7 hours and 17 minutes outside the ISS to fix a faulty battery of the space station’s power network.
The moment, which was streamed live via NASA's cameras, was celebrated by the female astronauts that came before her, as well as her friends, family and admirers here on Earth.
Meir is aware that she won't be returning to the same Earth she left behind. In an April 10 news conference, Meir addressed how difficult it will be to adjust to a changed world amid a pandemic.
"It is quite surreal for us to see this whole situation unfolding on the planet below,” Meir said. “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.”
The hardest part -- not being able to hug the friends and family she's been away from for nearly seven months.
"It will, of course, be wonderful to see some family and friends, at least virtually and from a distance for now," she said.
Meir studied diving physiology at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego. She worked for three years at NASA's Johnson Space Center to research how humans' physiology changes in space before launching into the expanse herself -- fulfilling her 5-year-old self's biggest dream.
On Wednesday, the day before her flight home, the ISS flew over "almost every place I've ever lived," Meir said in a tweet showcasing the La Jolla shore, the home of her former university. She questioned if it was "Mother Earth's way of calling me home?"
We think so, Jessica. Welcome home.