They may not have the traditional fixings for a Thanksgiving dinner, but the seven astronauts returning to Earth onboard space shuttle Atlantis are set to show their thanks with a memento-stuffed locker for those who made their mission a success.
The STS-129 crew hit the road for the holiday Wednesday, departing from the International Space Station (ISS) after six days delivering spare parts to extend the outpost's on-orbit lifespan. They will spend today and Thanksgiving day circling the planet as they prepare their ship for a return to Earth on Friday, weather permitting.
This isn't the first shuttle crew to spend Thanksgiving in space: Seven prior missions dating back to 1985 have spent turkey day in orbit, many complete with the turkey. The NASA food lab has, at the commander's request, prepared special meals with thermostabilized smoked turkey, freeze-dried cornbread stuffing and spicy green beans, as well as condiment-size packs of cranberry sauce.
Atlantis' commander, Charles "Scorch" Hobaugh, however, decided he and his crew would forego the festive foods for whatever was on the regular menu.
"Whatever is in flight day  'Meal B' that our wonderful food people packed for us, that's what we're eating. And actually, I guess it's 'Meal C,'" explained Hobaugh during a news conference held from space on Tuesday.
"Thanksgiving isn't all about what you eat, it's the people you spend it with. This has become my second family and of course, my main family is back home," he added.
There is a third "family" that Hobaugh and his crewmates have included as part of their mission, at least vicariously: the organizations, educational institutions and community societies that supported each of them individually and together as a crew. For them, the astronauts have packed small souvenirs in the mission's Official Flight Kit (OFK).
"Trying to find things you can pay back organizations and outfits that either have special meaning to me or just do something special for the community or the U.S. people in general can be hard," said Hobaugh in a preflight interview with collectSPACE.com.
Every shuttle mission carries the duffle-bag-size OFK, in which crew members can carry 20 small items alongside mementos packed by NASA. The package of space-flown souvenirs is not Thanksgiving-specific, but it does share the theme of the holiday: giving thanks.
For family, friends and fraternities
Hobaugh, a Marine Corps colonel, looked to his history in the military to chose some of the items he flew. In addition to carrying a banner for the U.S. Naval Academy, he also has an item with relevance to a fellow student.
"My roommate from the Academy of four years, a great friend of mine that I hardly get to see but when I do it is like long-lost brothers, he's the commanding officer of the USS Bonhomme Richard, so I am flying up a ship patch for them," said the shuttle commander.
Atlantis' pilot, Barry "Butch" Wilmore was similarly inspired to take mementos from his alma mater. Completing both his undergraduate and Master's degrees from Tennessee Technical University in Cookeville, Wilmore made sure the school was well represented in the STS-129 OFK.
In addition to a gold medallion for the school's College of Education and a purple-and-gold placard for the Electrical Engineering college, Wilmore packed a thumb flash drive and a plush eagle mascot for the university.
Wilmore's eagle is joined in the OFK by a stuffed-toy blue spider from University of Richmond alumnus and mission specialist Leland Melvin.
Melvin also stowed several pins and the front page of local newspapers for the Commonwealth of Virginia capital city. An amateur songwriter in his own right, Melvin also flew a family ancestry chart for musician Quincy Jones, a friend who provided a "wake-up call" song during Melvin's earlier shuttle flight.
Bobby Satcher, one of this mission's three spacewalkers, also became the first orthopedic surgeon in space. Though he left the tools of the trade at home -- "We're not taking any joint replacement equipment," he told collectSPACE.com -- he did represent his profession on Atlantis. In addition to "tweeting" from orbit with the screen name "Astro_Bones," he said he had a banner from the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, "so they are definitely represented."
For fellow spacewalker Randy Bresnik, packing items was a family affair. His grandfather, Albert Bresnik, had been Amelia Earhart's personal photographer and so he flew a scarf that had belonged to the famed aviator, as well as a photograph taken of her by his grandfather.
Bresnik also recognized the next generation of his family, his daughter Abigail Mae who was born during the mission hours after he made his first spacewalk. The next day, he showed off a pink onesie decorated with the mission logo, a design he had a hand in creating.
"If you think about it, you are designing something that is part of a legacy," Bresnik said, referring to the long history of space shuttle mission patches. "I think we ended up with a pretty unique patch that people really appreciate for its originality."
More than 600 of the STS-129 patches were stowed in the flight kit for later presentation to NASA employees and the contractors who worked on the mission.
A sporting tradition
It wouldn't be a proper Thanksgiving without the toss of a pigskin, and thanks to Wilmore, a former college football outside linebacker, there's one aboard Atlantis, too...
- Video - Astronauts Celebrate Thanksgiving in Space
- Video - Space Crew Celebrates Birth of Astronaut's Daughter
- Video Show - How Astronauts Prepare to Ride Space Shuttles
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