Aroostook County native Jessica Meir has returned to Earth.
That marks the end of Meir’s first journey into space. She spent 205 days aboard the International Space Station, logging 86.9 million miles during 3,280 orbits around the planet.
Meir, U.S. astronaut Andrew Morgan and Russian cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka disembarked aboard the Soyuz MS-15 spacecraft at 9:53 p.m. Eastern Time on Thursday as the space station passed some 263 miles over eastern Mongolia, according to NASA.
The trio landed about 1:16 a.m. Eastern Time on Friday southeast of the remote town of Dzhezkazgan in Kazahstan, about five hours after sunrise. They were greeted by a search and recovery team wearing protective face masks, the first sign as they left the Soyuz module that Meir, Morgan and Skripochka have returned to a planet in the grip of a global pandemic.
Video from the scene showed Meir smiling as she got her first breath of fresh air since last fall and as a NASA team conducted a medical check after the landing.
Meir, who is from Caribou, arrived on Sept. 25, 2019, at the space station aboard the Soyuz MS-15 with Skripochka and Emirati astronaut Hazza Al Mansouri, who returned to Earth eight days later. That was almost six months before the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a global pandemic.
In an interview the day before her departure, Meir told late show host and comedian Stephen Colbert that it was “surreal” for her and her crewmates to watch the pandemic unfold from space, saying “It’s a bit difficult for us to believe that we are truly going back to a different planet.”
Meir, the valedictorian of Caribou High School’s Class of 1995, was among three women and four men selected from 6,100 applicants in 2013 for NASA’s 21st class of astronauts. She is the third Mainer, and first Maine woman, to enter into outer space.
Meir made history in October 2019 when she and U.S. astronaut Christina Koch embarked on the first all-female spacewalk to replace a newly installed battery unit that had failed. It came almost seven months after NASA scrapped its planned all-female spacewalk by Koch and Anne McClain because it did not have two properly fitted space suits.
Meir went on another two spacewalks for a total of 21 hours and 44 minutes.
The three were carried aboard MI8 helicopters to Baikonur, Kazakhstan, where they parted before returning to their respective homelands. Meir and Morgan will soon return to Houston, while Skripochka will return to his home in Star City, Russia.
Their departure will reduce the human population in space to three. Fellow Maine native Christopher Cassidy, 50, of York will become Expedition 63 commander at the space station until his own departure in the fall. He arrived there last week with Russian cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner.