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

What to expect from the final debate of the 2020 election

Trump and Biden at the first debate. Morry Gash-Pool/Getty Image

Watch for President Trump to address Joe Biden as “the big guy” or “the chairman” at tonight's debate as a way of dramatizing the Hunter Biden emails. Hunter's former business partner Tony Bobulinski is expected to be a Trump debate guest.

The big picture: Trump's advisers universally view the first debate as a catastrophe — evidenced by a sharp plunge in Trump’s public and (more convincingly for them) private polling immediately following the debate.

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Politics: Chris Christie: Wear a mask "or you may regret it — as I did" — Senate Democrats block vote on McConnell's targeted relief bill.
  2. Business: New state unemployment filings fall.
  3. Economy: Why the stimulus delay isn't a crisis (yet).
  4. Health: FDA approves Gilead's remdesivir as a coronavirus treatment How the pandemic might endMany U.S. deaths were avoidable.
  5. Education: Boston and Chicago send students back home for online learning.
  6. World: Spain and France exceed 1 million cases.

FBI: Russian hacking group stole data after targeting local governments

FBI Headquarters. Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Energetic Bear, a Russian state-sponsored hacking group, has stolen data from two servers after targeting state and federal government networks in the U.S. since at least September, the FBI and Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency said on Thursday.

Driving the news: Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe announced Wednesday that Iran and Russia had obtained voter registration information that could be used to undermine confidence in the U.S. election system.

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