Astronauts celebrate Thanksgiving at International Space Station
This Thanksgiving, countless family members, friends and loved ones were unfortunately many hours and miles away from each other.
Seven individuals were, in fact, worlds away.
The International Space Station hosted seven crew members on Thanksgiving, the most ever in its 20 years of having humans aboard.
The crew included NASA astronauts Kate Rubins, Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker; Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Soichi Noguchi; and Russian cosmonauts Sergey Kud-Sverchkov and Sergey Ryzhikov.
They all took a day off from working on the space station and sat down for a special meal together, sharing traditions and phoning home to catch up with loved ones.
“The year 2020 is a tough one, but it’s also the year of Perseverance and the year of Resilience, and I really hope every one of you cherish every moment with your friends and family,” Mr. Noguchi said in a CNN story, referencing the names of the Perseverance rover and the SpaceX Crew-1 capsule Resilience.
This past Thanksgiving was Mr. Hopkins’ second Thanksgiving in space.
“For me, Thanksgiving is all about family,” he said in the CNN story. “This year, I’m spending it with my international family. We all feel very blessed to be up here, and we’re very grateful for everything we have.”
Back on Earth, NASA helped develop the tiny, highly efficient video cameras that allow virtual family dinners. In fact, it was the first space agency to modernize conference calling, so NASA can be thanked for Zoom meetings and virtual happy hours.
The first Thanksgiving celebrated in space occurred on Nov. 22, 1973, with Skylab 4 astronauts Gerald P. Carr, Edward G. Gibson and William R. Pogue. They were on the seventh day of their 84-day mission and consumed two meals at dinner.
The standard menu for NASA astronauts in space is turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes.
However, some astronauts save special items to share such as smoked salmon and cranberry sauce, which in outer space, perfectly retains the shape of the can from which it came.
NASA is faced with the task of ensuring all the food is safe to eat, and actually spearheaded efforts to improve food safety around the world, a movement that continued over the next few decades.
The push began in the early 1960s in attempts to provide safe food for the astronauts on the Gemini and Apollo missions.
The Apollo Program Office focused heavily on identifying and controlling any potential points of failure in the food production process where hazards could be introduced.
This led to the formation of the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point system, and all the companies putting food on the table for Thanksgiving to this day use this approach. The businesses cite it as a major reason for the reduction in foodborne illness.
Thanks to the HACCP, which was invented at the Johnson Space Center to ensure safety of the Apollo astronauts’ food, turkey and mashed potatoes are safe to eat this holiday season on the planet Earth.
NASA astronaut Dr. Andrew Morgan spent the entire holiday season on the space station in 2019. This year was his first year home for Thanksgiving since 2018.
He spoke to the isolation astronauts experience and compared it to the isolation many people are experiencing now as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As they (the crew members on the space station) experience the holidays separated from loved ones, so are the majority of the people on this planet right now,” he said in a CNN story. “But that separation is finite. The crew will return and be reunited, this pandemic will pass, and we will all be reunited as human beings.”