"It's quite surreal to see it unfolding on Earth below."

Lonely Homecoming

A team of three astronauts are set to return to Earth on Friday. When they do, they'll be rejoining a vastly different society than the one they left.

The trio — Oleg Skrypochka of Russia and Americans Andrew Morgan and Jessica Meir — have all been on the International Space Station since at least September, BBC News reports. Because they've been in orbit since well before the coronavirus pandemic began, they'll be returning from the isolation of space and going straight into quarantine.

"It's quite surreal to see it unfolding on Earth below," Meir said during a press conference.

Physical Distancing

Space agencies have been going to great lengths to prevent astronauts from catching the coronavirus. For instance, the trio's replacements were placed in an extended pre-launch quarantine to guarantee that they weren't sick before blasting off.

When the astronauts land at Kazakhstan's Baikonur Cosmodrome spaceport on Friday, the team sent to retrieve them will have already been tested for COVID-19 after spending time in quarantine, BBC reports.

Isolation Anywhere

The astronauts had the bizarre experience of watching the pandemic unfold from the space, but once they're back they'll still be just as isolated — a change from the usual post-mission routine that has Meir concerned.

"It will be difficult to not give hugs to family and friends after being up here for seven months," she told reporters. "I think I will feel more isolated on Earth than here. We're busy with amazing pursuits and tasks and don't feel the isolation."

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Space crew to return to very different Earth [BBC News]

More on quarantine: Surviving Isolation: A Lesson From 5 Astronauts

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