Space station astronaut dons mask in prep for return to Earth

After six months on the International Space Station (ISS), NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy has donned a face mask in readiness for his return to a planet that is still very much grappling with the coronavirus pandemic.

“Masked up on @Space_Station!” Cassidy wrote in a post on Twitter on Monday. “Training myself for my new reality when I get home on Wednesday.”

Masked up on @Space_Station! Training myself for my new reality when I get home on Wednesday. pic.twitter.com/vOyFe9UBj1

— Chris Cassidy (@Astro_SEAL) October 19, 2020

While the COVID-19 outbreak was already sweeping across the world when Cassidy and his two fellow space travelers departed for the ISS in April 2020, the situation was nowhere near as bad as it is now, with John Hopkins University data suggesting a global death toll of around 150,000 and 2.1 million recorded infections at that time. As of this week, the pandemic has now claimed the lives of some 1.1 million people, with more than 40 million recorded infections.

Cassidy will return to Earth alongside Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner — the same two Russian cosmonauts with whom he traveled to the orbiting outpost six months ago.

Visitors to the ISS always have to go into quarantine for a period of time before a launch to ensure that they don’t take any conditions with them that could develop after arriving at the space station, putting themselves and other crew members in potential danger. With COVID-19 already spreading rapidly around the world last spring, these precautions were tightened, with Cassidy and his colleagues, for example, placed in quarantine for an entire month before lift-off, instead of a couple of weeks.

Cassidy has spent a busy time aboard the space station, carrying out various scientific experiments as well as performing essential maintenance during a total of four spacewalks. He also monitored some powerful storms from 250 miles up, started work to find an air leak on the station, and captured a cool shot of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft shortly after the capsule docked carrying its first-ever astronauts. And, importantly, Cassidy also installed a brand new toilet for future ISS visitors.

The return journey of the three Expedition 63 crew members will be livestreamed on NASA TV, from the undocking at around 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, October 21, to the landing back in Kazakhstan shortly before 11 p.m. ET.

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