How astronauts celebrate Thanksgiving in space

Holidays: How Christmas is celebrated on board the ISS

At the beginning of December the time had come again: the Russian space transporter “Progress” docked with the International Space Station (ISS). The unmanned freighter had around 2.5 tons of luggage on board: groceries, mail, fuel, spare parts - and Christmas gifts.

Because Christmas has also been celebrated on the ISS for eight years. On November 2, 2000, William Shepherd, Juri Gidsenko and Sergej Krikaljow were the first permanent crew to enter what was then still a relatively small space station. In addition to the breathtaking view of the earth and the weightlessness, there was also a special feature that children should be really envious of: Christmas is usually celebrated twice in a row on board the ISS.

At least when astronauts from the Western churches are on board together with Christian Orthodox cosmonauts from Russia, for example. Then the first Christmas on December 25th is followed by the Orthodox Christmas on January 7th.

In addition to their Santa hats, the US astronauts Edward Michael Fincke and Sandra Magnus and the Russian cosmonaut Yuri Lontschakow have a small plastic Christmas tree on board. A proper Nordmann fir tree would undoubtedly enhance the Christmas atmosphere in the jumbo-sized station. However, the fir needles then floated around the crew's ears, and the horrendous transport costs of at least 11,000 euros per kilo of freight were difficult to justify. The ISS crew has to be content with small gifts at Christmas.

“As far as the festive atmosphere is concerned, you have to take it as it comes,” says the German astronaut Thomas Reiter. He spent Christmas 1995 with two Russian colleagues on the former “Mir” space station. At that time, all of his personal luggage could not weigh more than 1.5 kilos. There was still space for Christmas balls, pointed hats and a CD with holiday music. The fact that the Mir was much smaller than the ISS did not detract from the atmosphere either. “Something can also be conjured up surrounded by systems and computers,” says Reiter.

Gerald Carr, Edward Gibson and William Pogue once moved even closer together in the tiny US space station "Skylab" than on the Mir. On Christmas Eve 1973 they even had to put together their Christmas tree from used tin cans.

The current crew of the ISS is doing better. The station now offers plenty of space and many opportunities to communicate with the earth. There have always been video messages on major holidays. On the NASA website you can get an idea of ​​the festive atmosphere on board. The five crew members of the ISS enjoyed an impressive menu with turkey, green beans and cranberries for Thanksgiving in November.

After their holiday roast prepared in a space-appropriate way, Michael Fincke and Sandra Magnus are likely to hold the gifts on December 25th at around the same time as the residents of London, near which the prime meridian runs. It is decisive for the so-called coordinated world time, according to which the clocks on the ISS are also based. If this were not the case, the ISS crew could even celebrate Christmas every 91 minutes - that is how long the station, with its constant 28,000 kilometers per hour, needs to circumnavigate the earth.

"It was a very special evening - on the one hand far away from our families, on the other hand an unusual feeling to be able to spend such a holiday in space", remembers Thomas Reiter. With a track height of a good 350 kilometers, he was geographically closer to his family several times a day on the Mir than many people on earth. The ISS also regularly pulls its orbits over Germany at the same height.