Astronauts offer advice on keeping calm (and carrying on) amid coronavirus outbreak

European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst, Expedition 40 flight engineer, enjoys the view of Earth from the windows in the Cupola of the International Space Station.
European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst, Expedition 40 flight engineer, enjoys the view of Earth from the windows in the Cupola of the International Space Station. (Image credit: NASA)

A typical astronaut knows a lot about carrying on in high-risk circumstances, even in isolation. Learning how to cope with these circumstances is new to most of us during this novel coronavirus outbreak. But for astronauts, working in small groups under duress is what they are trained for.

Several astronauts offered comforting words on Twitter this week as countries around the world asked citizens to stay at home and closed schools and businesses to slow the spread of the coronavirus. 

Not all of the astronauts' tweets mention coronavirus specifically, but they do talk about coping in stressful times. Wherever you are, we can probably agree these are stressful times — and we hope that you are doing OK.

Related: Free space projects for kids at home due to coronavirus outbreak

There has been a lot of chatter from astronauts about coronavirus, but here is what a few of them had to say. 

NASA astronaut Jessica Meir, who has been in space for almost six months as part of the Expedition 62 mission, tweeted a picture of Earth from her perch on the International Space Station (ISS) on Monday (March 16). "From up here, it is easy to see that we are truly all in this together. #EarthStrong," she said.

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly (now retired) knows more about isolation than most, as he spent nearly a year aboard the ISS in 2015-2016 (along with a Russian cosmonaut, Mikhail Kornienko, and a few crew members who had shorter stays.)

"We'll get through this together by following the advice of the experts," Kelly wrote on Twitter Saturday (March 14), linking to a web page about the coronavirus from the Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC) — one of the agencies providing advice to Americans about how to manage their health during the outbreak.

"One thing I learned in my twenty years at NASA," Kelly added in another tweet accompanied by a soothing picture of Earth, "is that most problems aren't rocket science, but when they are rocket science, you should ask a rocket scientist." He linked again to the CDC page — presumably meaning that during these times, we should trust advice from public health experts.

NASA astronaut Christina Koch is another veteran of isolation, having experienced it for several months in Antarctica and also during a nearly year-long mission on the International Space Station. Koch is still in recovery and getting used to Earth after landing on Feb. 6, 2020, but she has been sharing updates on Twitter since coming home.

"One year ago, launching into space reinforced to me that the most important thing on Earth is the people you love. Today, as we all stay close to home, I'm struck how that still couldn't be more true," Koch tweeted on Monday (March 16), showing a picture of a rocket launch with her tweet.

The European Space Agency (ESA)'s Luca Parmitano also recently returned from space, in the same spacecraft as Koch. The two-time ISS astronaut has been tweeting periodically about coronavirus, and recently tweeted a video message to Sicilians saying he has also been in quarantine recently, according to a computer translation from Italian.

Fellow ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet has tweeted a couple of times about coronavirus, including a recent tweet in French hashtagged #quarantinelife. "STAY HOME, it's the best method of preventing COVID 19," he said, in a French message translated by "We must take measures quickly to prevent the situation from worsening."

Another ESA astronaut, Samantha Cristoforetti, posted a link to fun website activities from her agency, urging everyone to "have fun with @esascience while staying home." She retweeted a thread from ESA, in which the agency offered some space science activities to occupy folks who are stuck at home and looking for something to do. 

NASA astronaut Anne McClain is another spaceflight veteran, having spent about six months aboard the ISS in 2018-19. "Reminder that stress happens when expectations aren't in line with reality. When we can't change reality, it's best to focus on our expectations," said McClain, who is also a U.S. Army lieutenant colonel and a former professional rugby player.

"Expect to do things differently," McClain added. "Expect to need to adapt. Expect to be out of your comfort zone. Expect to put others first."

Former Canadian Space Agency astronaut David Williams, a past emergency physician and veteran of two space shuttle missions, posted a tweet along with hand-washing advice from the United Nations and an emoji from "Like this hand washing emoji," he tweeted. "Great idea anytime, but even more important now."

Another former Canadian Space Agency astronaut, Chris Hadfield, has several tweets related to coronavirus and astronaut quarantine. On Wednesday (March 18), Hadfield shared a thread by Jeremy Young, a history professor at Dixie State University in St. George, Utah, detailing a new report on the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. 

"This thread is vitally important for everyone to read, and think about. The actual impacts of this virus on normal life," Hadfield wrote. About an hour later, he tweeted: "The best antidote for fear is competence — knowing what to do."

In another tweet on Tuesday (March 17), Hadfield recalled his last half-year mission to space in 2012-2013, when he experienced "the most isolated St. Patrick's of my life" and used the occasion to sing "Danny Boy," which you can listen to here.

Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook


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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: