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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Astronauts are experiencing the pandemic from hundreds of miles above the planet — offering the Earth-bound a fresh perspective on dealing with distance, loneliness and helplessness.

What's happening: Astronaut Chris Cassidy and cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner flew to the International Space Station last week.

  • Cassidy had no family or friends on hand to view the launch from Kazakhstan due to social distancing concerns and travel restrictions.
  • "We knew as a crew we were going to be in quarantine ... those exact weeks, but we didn't know the whole rest of the world was going to join us," Cassidy said during a press conference from the space station.
  • Two other astronauts, Jessica Meir and Andrew Morgan, are heading back to Earth this week after months in space and will arrive on a very different planet than the one they left.
"It is quite surreal for us to see this whole situation unfolding on the planet below. 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."
— Jessica Meir during a press conference

Astronauts who have been away from their families for months at a time even in the best situations describe a loneliness brought on by being physically separated from the people they care for.

  • "When you are on the ground, you just wish you were back in space because it's so cool, but when you're in space, almost all you can think about is actually your family," former NASA astronaut Pamela Melroy told Axios.

Context: Cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev witnessed the fall of the Soviet Union from the space station Mir. He left Earth from the Soviet Union and returned to a newly independent Kazakhstan months later than he initially expected to come home.

  • NASA astronaut Frank Culbertson was the only American off-Earth during 9/11, snapping photos of the aftermath from above and mourning a former classmate who was the pilot of the flight that crashed into the Pentagon.
  • Other astronauts have watched from above as hurricanes and other natural disasters impact their families on Earth.

The big picture: In many ways, our experiences on Earth today mirror the experiences astronauts in orbit have been living through for decades.

  • For some, the loneliness, helplessness and isolation are eased through acts of service and keeping busy, lessons we could incorporate during quarantine here on the planet.
  • "You try to keep your spirits up during isolation," former NASA astronaut Leroy Chiao told Axios. "You do things for others."

Go deeper: The coronavirus pandemic, as seen from space

Go deeper

Woman who allegedly stole laptop from Pelosi's office to sell to Russia is arrested

Photo: FBI

A woman accused of breaching the Capitol and planning to sell to Russia a laptop or hard drive she allegedly stole from Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office was arrested in Pennsylvania's Middle District Monday, the Department of Justice said.

Driving the news: Riley June Williams, 22, is charged with illegally entering the Capitol as well as violent entry and disorderly conduct. She has not been charged over the laptop allegation and the case remains under investigation, per the DOJ.

Biden will reverse Trump's attempt to lift COVID-related travel restrictions

Photo: Tasos Katopodis via Getty

The incoming Biden administration will reverse President Trump's last-minute order to lift COVID-19 related travel restrictions, Jen Psaki, the incoming White House press secretary, tweeted.

Why it matters: President Trump ordered entry bans lifted for travelers from the U.K., Ireland, Brazil and much of Europe to go into effect Jan. 26, but the Biden administration will "strengthen public health measures around international travel in order to further mitigate the spread of COVID-19," Jen Psaki said. Biden will be inaugurated on Wednesday, Jan. 20 and Trump will no longer be president by the time the order is set to go into effect.

Dominion sends cease and desist letter to My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell

Photo: Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

Dominion Voting Systems on Monday sent a cease and desist letter to My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell over his spread of misinformation related to the 2020 election.

Why it matters: Trump and several of his allies have pushed false conspiracy theories about the company, leading Dominion to take legal action. It's suing pro-Trump lawyer Sidney Powell for defamation and $1.3 billion in damages, and a Dominion employee has sued Trump himself, OANN and Newsmax.

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