There may not be family feasts or boughs of holly, but astronauts still manage to find creative ways to celebrate holidays while they’re orbiting the Earth.
Come Nov. 15, four astronauts will launch on SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft atop a Falcon 9 rocket and head for the International Space Station, where they’ll stay for about six months.
That means NASA astronauts Col. Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Soichi Noguchi will spend Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Day, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day and Easter in space if all goes according to plan.
It’s too early to tell what specifically the crew has planned for holidays in the months to come, but we can take a look at past celebrations to get an idea of what they might decide to do.
The three NASA astronauts on board the station, @Astro_Christina, @Astro_Jessica and @AstroDrewMorgan, share what #Thanksgiving means to them and get a look at what the holiday in space will be like in 2019. pic.twitter.com/fEgZIHIrf7— Intl. Space Station (@Space_Station) November 25, 2019
Last year, NASA astronauts Christina Koch, Jessica Meir and Andrew Morgan were happy to let Russian astronauts Aleksandr Skvortsov and Oleg Skripochka and Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano in on their American traditions.
In a video, they explained the importance of the holiday.
“Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday personally. I love it because it’s all about the togetherness but not necessarily the commercialism. And in recent years, I’ve also learned to love Friendsgiving and that’s a little bit like what we’re having on board here, Friendsgiving, although you could say we’re family, too,” Koch said.
Morgan was the one to show off the various pouches of food they’d be enjoying as part of their feast.
“When we think of Thanksgiving, we think of friends, family and food and so we’ve talked a lot about our friends and family but we’re also going to be enjoying a lot of really great food on board the International Space Station,” Morgan said.
He listed the usual Turkey Day staples: green beans, potatoes, mac and cheese that required some reconstitution, jellied cranberry sauce in a can and cornbread dressing.
“And of course, smoked turkey in a pouch,” Morgan said.
They ended the meal with a cranapple dessert.
Not exactly how mother makes it but the space explorers were still grateful.
Celebrating Christmas in space dates back to 1968 when Apollo 8 astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders read from the Book of Genesis as they hovered above the lunar surface. Their words, along with images of the moon, were beamed back to Earth on Christmas Eve for all to enjoy.
“We were told that on Christmas Eve we would have the largest audience that had ever listened to a human voice,” Borman said in 2008. “And the only instructions that we got from NASA was to do something appropriate.”
In recent years, the holiday has been a bit more festive with decorations, sweet treats, Rudolph noses, tinsel trees and even gifts.
Astronaut Scott Kelly has spent three Christmases in space: once as space shuttle pilot on STS-103 in 1999, a decade later during Expedition 26 in 2010 and for the last time in 2015 during Expedition 46.
During the 1999 mission to revive the Hubble Space Telescope, Kelly told The Guardian that he told his daughter, who was 5 at the time, that he would point the telescope at the North Pole to get a picture of Santa.
Fast forward to 2015 and Kelly’s daughter told Time that she spent holidays video chatting with her father and particularly enjoyed watching him do flips and tricks only possible in zero gravity. She said she was excited for him to receive his gifts.
A NASA photo from that year also shows a tinsel Christmas tree in the International Space Station’s Cupola module. A similar-looking tree was seen in a NASA photo of Kelly wearing a Santa hat in the Unity node of the International Space Station during Expedition 26 in 2010.
According to Kelly, New Year’s is actually a bigger deal than Christmas on the International Space Station because all the astronauts on board celebrate it at the same time. Plus, the International Space Station orbits Earth 16 times a day -- or every hour and a half -- so really they could celebrate multiple times if they so choose and they did just that going into 2015.
The station operates on the Universal Time Clock (UTC), also known as Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), so when it’s midnight there, it’s 7 p.m. in Orlando.
As the ISS clock struck midnight in 2017, Expedition 50 crewmembers wore silly hats and had a cookie decorating contest, according to Space.com.
Don’t expect any champagne at these celebrations. Russia Beyond reports that astronauts opened a bottle in 1995 but it turned straight to bubbles so in recent years, they’ve toasted with juice instead.
At least one company is trying to make champagne that can be enjoyed in zero gravity but NASA told BBC that alcohol is not allowed on the space station because of the “impacts their compounds can have on the station’s water recovery system.”
While they may work New Year’s Eve, NASA astronauts typically get New Year’s Day off to rest and enjoy themselves.
There’s nothing more romantic than gazing at the Earth from 200 miles high, right? The problem is NASA has a hard and fast rule that married couples aren’t allowed on spaceflight missions together.
TIME reports that astronauts Mark Lee and Jan Davis were the first and last married couple to travel in space together and that’s only because they kept their relationship a secret from NASA until it was too late to train a replacement for the mission.
Before you ask, NASA let the public know ahead of the Space Shuttle Endeavor lift off in 1992 that there’d be no intimacy in space -- there’s no room and no privacy for it.
Astronauts this year celebrated Valentine’s Day a few days late when Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus spacecraft arrived to the ISS with chocolates, Skittles, Mike and Ike’s, Hot Tamales, fresh fruit, veggies, wedges of Wisconsin cheddar, parmesan and fontina cheese and care packages from their family, according to FirstPost.
In 2016, Kelly didn’t tweet about his specific plans for the day of love but he did share a photo for his millions of followers to see of zinnia flowers that were grown in the Veggie plant growth system aboard the International Space Station. Kelly helped nurse the flowers back to life in December 2015 when he saw they weren’t looking their best and brightest and by Valentine’s Day, he had a beautiful bouquet.
NASA also highlighted the Veggie system in a Valentine’s Day Facebook post in 2015 that showed the facility lit up in a pretty pink.
St. Patrick’s Day
NASA astronaut Cady Coleman was more than ready for St. Patrick’s Day in 2011 when she donned a forest green polo and whipped out a 100-year-old flute she borrowed from Irish music group The Chieftains for her time on Expedition 27. The band also let her borrow a penny whistle for the trip.
She said she’s a quarter Irish on both sides of her family so bringing the instruments was a nod to her heritage.
“Even though I’m not a professional, clearly, professional flute or whistle player, I really felt privileged to have these instruments up in space with me. The pennywhistle fits in my pocket and I can take it out whenever I have time to play and just looking at Matt (Malloy’s) flute floating around the space station, it’s 100 years old and I think that the contrast of the old and the new -- you wouldn’t think it but it’s exactly the right thing to float around in the middle of an orbiting space station,” Coleman said.
Just a few years later, in 2013, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield kept up the musical tradition by singing “Danny Boy” on St. Patrick’s Day. You can hear his International Space Station rendition of the Irish ballad here.
Don't tell my crew, but I brought them Easter Eggs :) pic.twitter.com/0gKpk9xWHi— Chris Hadfield (@Cmdr_Hadfield) March 31, 2013
Hadfield got festive for Easter, too.
While there’s no Easter bunny aboard the ISS, the commander of Expedition 35 filled that role by hiding -- or at least attempting to hide -- colorful plastic eggs aboard the spacecraft.
With zero gravity, that’s easier said than done because the eggs just ended up hovering in the air.
“Sometimes the best place to hide an item is floating right above your nose. Or in this case, your sleep pod,” Hadfield tweeted along with a photo showing a plastic egg and another gift-wrapped treat.
More recently, astronauts in 2019 got a shipment from Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus capsule in April 2019 that included pork chops with gravy, smoked turkey, potatoes au gratin, lemon meringue pudding and apricot cobbler, according to the Associated Press.
To see what shenanigans members of Crew-1 get into for the holidays during their six-month mission, be sure to check back at ClickOrlando.com/space.