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What Will the Crew on the ISS have for Thanksgiving?

Video courtesy of NASA

So it’s Thanksgiving and you are on orbit—how do you celebrate this festive holiday while zipping around the Earth at 17,500 mph? One thing is for sure: you don’t hop into a Soyuz and drop on down to your nearest supermarket. If you want turkey and dressing, you need to plan well in advance of the holiday. 

Pictured on the front row are NASA astronaut Kevin Ford (left), commander; and Canadian Space Agency astronaut Chris Hadfield, flight engineer. Pictured from the left (back row) are Russian cosmonauts Oleg Novitskiy, Evgeny Tarelkin, and Roman Romanenko and NASA astronaut Tom Marshburn, all flight engineers. Photo Credit: NASA

A lot of progress has been made in terms of space food since the early days of space flight. During the Mercury Program, astronauts squeezed their vittles out of what looked like toothpaste tubes. These days the delivery is a little better with food coming either freeze-dried or in a pouch.

So, if astronauts want turkey with all the fixings, they will likely have to add water first or heat up a pouch. Yams? They come in a pouch. Green beans? Freeze dried. Such is life for members of NASA’s astronaut corps.

There are three Expedition 34 crew members currently onboard the International Space Station (ISS). The expedition consists of one American, Kevin Ford, and two Russian cosmonauts, Evgeny Tarelkin and Oleg Novitskiy. Even though Russians are not normally in the habit of celebrating a traditionally American holiday like Thanksgiving, the global community that comprises the space station’s crew shares one another’s holidays.

Do you think that when Kevin Ford was launching to orbit on Oct. 23, 2012,  that he was thinking about turkey? Thankfully, he didn’t have to as the NASA team had already gone over his mission’s menu in painstaking detail. Photo Credit: NASA

So, what do these crewmen have on hand to celebrate Thanksgiving? Besides the before-mentioned turkey, yams, and green beans, there are also cornbread dressing, potatoes, and cranberries. For dessert? Cherry-blueberry cobbler.

Now, having the best view ever afforded any Thanksgiving table does come with a few disadvantages. For one, you can’t set a steaming plate of turkey down on the table. For another, the food has to be modified for the micro-gravity environment (imagine all the havoc a dish that leaves crumbs everywhere might cause). All foods have to be prepared by what NASA has dubbed a “food scientist.”

Folks with this job description have to make sure that any food that is sent up to the ISS—either in one of Russia’s Progress spacecrafts, the European ATV, Japanese HTV, or SpaceX Dragon—meets some pretty stringent requirements.

The hazards of wayward chow harkens back to the very early days of manned space flight. When John Young shared a corned beef sandwich that he smuggled on board the two-man spacecraft with Gemini-3 Commander Gus Grissom, crumbs stopped Grissom from fully enjoying the meal and raised worries that it could get into their eyes. NASA was less than amused.

Since that time, NASA has carefully monitored the meals that astronauts eat to ensure that they are safe for space flight. They are also planned out far in advance of the actual mission, and in most cases are already waiting for them when they reach the station. The astronauts have a good deal of say as to what they eat, but in some instances space and the micro-gravity environment have the final word.

For some reason food tastes a little blander when in space, and astronauts have developed a sophisticated way of countering this effect—it’s called hot sauce. Astronauts use it to add spice to their food, but they do so carefully—just imagine what a stray droplet could do to your eye.

Ford and company will tend the station, conducting experiments and preparing for the arrival of three additional crew members around Christmas time. The Expedition 34 crew will greet the remaining half of their crew—NASA astronaut Tom Marshburn, Canadian Space Agency (CSA) astronaut Chris Hadfield, and Russian cosmonaut Roman Romanenko—after they arrive at the space station around Dec. 21.

So now that you know what is in store for the Expedition 34 crew during Thanksgiving, why don’t you send them a holiday greeting? Just click here: Happy Holidays!

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