American Astronauts Give Thanks for Safe Space Station Flight
The six American and Russian crewmembers on the International Space Station wave after a change-of-command ceremony passed control of the station from NASA astronaut Doug Wheelock (front left) to Scott Kelly (right).
Credit: NASA TV.

Americans on Earth aren't the only ones giving thanks today: U.S. astronauts on the International Space Station are marking this Thanksgiving holiday by appreciating the support from the army of engineers, friends and family working tirelessly to bring them home safely.

The station crew is actually working through their space Thanksgiving holiday since two of them ? NASA astronauts Douglas Wheelock and Shannon Walker ? will be returning to Earth tonight (Nov. 25) with a cosmonaut crewmate aboard a Russian Soyuz capsule.

"We wanted to say thank you to our ground support teams to our control center in Houston and all the great work and long hours, the thousands and thousands of meetings that you guys suffer through for the cause of this great flying machine and the safety of our crew," Wheelock told Mission Control yesterday. "We really appreciate that."

The station's entire six-person crew, which includes three Americans and three Russians, celebrated Thanksgiving in space a day early to have one last big meal together as a full crew before splitting up. [Video: Astronauts send Americans Thanksgiving message]

Wheelock, Walker and cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin are due to return to Earth tonight at 11:46 p.m. EST (0446 Nov. 26 GMT) to wrap up a more than five-month mission to the International Space Station. The astronauts and cosmonaut will undock their Soyuz TMA -19 spacecraft at 8:22 p.m. EST (0122 GMT) to begin their descent.

"I just wanted to wish everyone well this Thanksgiving," Walker said during in a holiday video message to Earth. "I hope everyone is surrounded by friends and family and enjoying their wonderful Thanksgiving dinner together."

Yesterday, the astronauts and cosmonauts tucked in to a NASA version of Thanksgiving dinner. Precooked irradiated smoked turkey, green beans with mushrooms and candied yams were on the menu.

The returning station crew will land on the steppes of Kazakhstan in Central Asia, where the local time will actually be Friday morning. The weather at the landing site is expected to be freezing with a chance of rain or snow.

Wheelock, Walker and Yurchikhin have lived aboard the International Space Station since mid-June. They initially joined the station's Expedition 24 crew, with Wheelock taking command of the Expedition 25 mission during a crew change in September. ?

Yesterday, Wheelock turned command of the space station over to fellow NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, who will lead the outpost's Expedition 25 mission. Kelly will remain behind on the station with two cosmonaut crewmates when Wheelock and the others depart today.

After landing, the crew will be retrieved by recovery teams and ferried to the city of Kustanai, Kazakhstan where it will split up ? with Yurchikhin flying to Moscow while Wheelock and Walker fly back to Houston, Texas, home to NASA's astronaut training center at Johnson Space Center.

A meal of traditional Thanksgiving turkey and other fixings awaits the American astronauts on the plane returning them home.

"It's been an incredible journey and an incredible journey traveling through the cosmos around our Earth and looking out at our beautiful planet," Wheelock said this week. "I'm thankful for my crewmates and thankful for the good Earth. I'm looking forward to coming home as well."

You can follow SPACE.com Managing Editor Tariq Malik on Twitter @tariqjmalik.