This story was updated at 10:25 a.m. EST.
A dozen astronauts in orbit took a break from their orbital work Thursday to celebrate a weightless Thanksgiving, despite the fact that they?re flying on two different spaceships.
The shuttle Atlantis, with seven crewmembers onboard, left the International Space Station early Wednesday, capping off a week-long visit to stock the outpost with spare equipment. The orbiter is slated to land Friday morning at NASA?s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla.
In honor of the American Thanksgiving holiday, NASA replaced the shuttle?s icon with a traditional turkey image on its Mission Control map tracking the spacecraft around Earth. The shuttle astronauts can choose from their normal space menus, or select from NASA?s traditional meal of irradiated turkey with cornbread dressing, green beans and candied yams. The five people on the station also took the day off for the U.S. holiday.
?Thanksgiving to me has not always been not about the food you eat, but the company you keep and I?m keeping some outstanding company here,? said Atlantis commander Charlie ?Scorch? Hobaugh in a series of televised interviews today. ?I can?t wait to see my family when I get back and have a Thanksgiving meal with them a little late, but in the meantime I?ve got a great group of friends and I?m thankful for that.?
With Hobaugh on Atlantis are shuttle pilot Barry "Butch" Wilmore and mission specialists Randy Bresnik, Leland Melvin, Mike Foreman, Robert Satcher, Jr. and Nicole Stott. Stott is returning home on Atlantis after nearly three months living and working on the space station. The astronauts recorded a special holiday message for Earth from the flight deck of Atlantis.
Bresnik is especially thankful to be heading home. His wife Rebecca gave birth to their new daughter Abigail - the couple?s second child - on Saturday while he was in space.
?I can?t imagine anybody wanting to miss their daughter?s birth, but hopefully when she?s older she?ll forgive me for being absent,? Bresnik said.
The new astronaut-dad said he felt lucky he would get to meet his new baby girl just a week after her arrival. Many military personnel deployed around the world don?t get that chance.
?On this Thanksgiving, we?ve got to remember the military folks who are deployed around the world,? said Bresnik, a Marine Corps lieutenant colonel. ?Our thanks today goes to them for the service that they give, especially those who are not able to be home to see their children right away.?
Hobaugh?s shuttle crew left behind five colleagues on the station led by NASA astronaut and new commander Jeffrey Williams, who took the helm Tuesday. Along with him on the orbital laboratory are European Space Agency astronaut Frank De Winne, Russian cosmonauts Roman Romanenko and Maxim Suraev, and Canadian astronaut Bob Thirsk.
"As we fly high over planet Earth during this holiday season, we have the privilege of sharing a global variety of delicacies with our station crewmates from Russia, Canada and Belgium," Williams said.
He and Stott made a video to show some of the space food they'd be eating on Thanksgiving, including cauliflower and cheese, creamed spinach, fruit cocktail, and spicy green beans. The space station and the shuttle Atlantis can be easily spotted in the night sky this weekend to some viewers on Earth.
"Unfortunately we don?t get to make green bean casserole, but this is about the next best thing," Stott said. "During this holiday season we of course miss our families and our friends back home, but we're enjoying every minute of our adventure."
Stott has a husband and a young son in Houston. She said she?s looking forward to seeing them again, as well as having a drink of Coca Cola and a New York-Style pizza after she lands. Stott?s crewmates will set up a special recumbent chair for her on the middeck of Atlantis. The seat will allow Stott to return to Earth in a reclined position to better adjust to feeling the tug of Earth?s gravity for the first time in months.
The Atlantis astronauts plan a relatively quiet day in space, spent doing final packing and checkouts for landing, slated for Friday at 9:44 a.m. EST (1444 GMT).
- Video - Astronauts Celebrate Thanksgiving in Space
- Holiday Sky Treat: Spot the Shuttle and Space Station
- Video - Space Crew Celebrates Birth of Astronaut's Daughter
SPACE.com is providing complete coverage of Atlantis' STS-129 mission to the International Space Station with Staff Writer Clara Moskowitz and Managing Editor Tariq Malik. Click here for shuttle mission updates and a link to NASA TV.