NASA astronaut Jessica Meir waves at the camera in October during a spacewalk with fellow NASA astronaut Christina Koch (out of frame). Credit: Courtesy of NASA

CARIBOU, Maine — NASA astronaut Jessica Meir of Caribou is scheduled to return to Earth on April 17 with fellow astronaut Andrew Morgan aboard the Soyuz MS-15 crew ship.

NASA Public Affairs Specialist Megan Sumner said on Wednesday that while the return date is on schedule, the precise landing location is still being determined. Sumner said that more information on the landing site will be released shortly before the astronauts land.

In a video posted to the International Space Station Twitter account on Tuesday, Meir said she and her fellow astronauts have been thinking often about the COVID-19 pandemic unfolding on Earth.

“It is very strange and a bit surreal for us to be seeing it all unfold when we’ve been up here for the entire duration of what’s going on down on the ground,” she said. “It seems that we will be going back to a completely different planet.”

People across the world have been practicing social distancing and self-isolation to help “flatten the curve” and prevent a spike in cases. Meir said the feelings from the social distancing and self-isolating on Earth are not unlike what she and her fellow astronauts have experienced while aboard the International Space Station — separated from family and friends.

“We maintain regular contact with people back home,” she said. “We talk weekly to our family, friends and loved ones with video conferences.”

For those struggling with isolation, Meir recommended sticking to a routine and practicing healthy habits.

“I think there are a lot of things that people can do to make things a little bit easier,” she said. “Some of the things we do up here is to make sure we try to stick to our exercise regimen to stay fit and healthy. Exercise, as we know, is important not only for our physical fitness but also for our mental well-being and that’s something that we emphasize a lot up here.”

She said she’s seen several accounts of friends and family on Earth maintaining contact via web-based programs and that this, along with sticking to a daily routine, can help out significantly during periods of isolation.

“I think it’s coming in handy for people on the ground as well as astronauts up here on the space station,” Meir said.