Astronauts Celebrate Thanksgiving in Space (Video)

Barry "Butch" Wilmore, commander of the International Space Station, sends a Thanksgiving message to Earth. This image is a still from a NASA video published on Nov. 24, 2014.
Barry "Butch" Wilmore, commander of the International Space Station, sends a Thanksgiving message to Earth. This image is a still from a NASA video published on Nov. 24, 2014. (Image credit: NASA TV)

This Thursday (Nov. 27) will be full of feast, family and friends as people celebrate Thanksgiving — both on Earth and on the International Space Station (ISS).

The orbiting lab's American astronauts — commander Barry "Butch" Wilmore and flight engineer Terry Virts — and Italian-born flight engineer Samantha Cristoforetti will take Thursday off from their normal duties to celebrate the holiday. Orbiting about 250 miles (400 kilometers) above the Earth, Wilmore took a moment to send a Thanksgiving greeting for everyone on the ground.

In the video message, Wilmore spoke about the things he is thankful for, which include the opportunity to experience weightlessness. To demonstrate the joy of this experience, Wilmore did his "bat imitation." [Cosmic Quiz: The Reality of Life in Orbit]

"I can hang from the ceiling like a bat," he said, floating with his feet straight above his head. "And I'm grateful for these kinds of things that you dream about. Literally dream about. … To have the opportunity to take part and share in it is special and amazing. And I'm thankful for that." 

Wilmore, Virts and Cristoforetti were recently joined at the station by three Russian astronauts: flight engineers Alexander Samokutyaev, Anton Shkaplerov and Elena Serova, who got to the station late Sunday (Nov. 23).

While the Russian crewmembers do not take Thanksgiving Day off, they will likely join their crewmates for dinner. NASA food scientists have created a "traditional" Thanksgiving dinner for the crew, including irradiated smoked turkey, thermostabilized candied yams, freeze-dried cornbread stuffing, freeze-dried green beans and mushrooms, and thermostabilized cherry-blueberry cobbler.

"So we're going to have all of that up here and try to share in the spirit of the season," Wilmore said.

Food aboard the space station is either freeze-dried or thermostabilized (a process similar to canning, but with the food packed in pouches), so it has a long shelf life and can be stored without refrigeration. There are no microwaves or ovens on board the station, so astronauts heat food using warm water.

Thanksgiving celebrations on the International Space Station began in 2000, the first year American astronauts were aboard during the holiday. The first space-based Thanksgiving took place aboard the United States' first space station, Skylab, on Nov. 22, 1973, and was held by American astronauts Jerry Carr, Bill Pogue and Ed Gibson.

In his video message, Wilmore spoke about feeling thankful for all the people involved in the current mission, both in orbit and on the ground.

"As we go forward, I look back at the two months that I've been here," said Wilmore, "and the things that I've had the opportunity to experience, and the people from the ground that I've worked with from afar — that are processing experiments, doing all the science that we are really operators for up here.  I'm thankful for them and the efforts they're doing for the benefit of mankind."

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Calla Cofield
Senior Writer

Calla Cofield joined's crew in October 2014. She enjoys writing about black holes, exploding stars, ripples in space-time, science in comic books, and all the mysteries of the cosmos. Prior to joining Calla worked as a freelance writer, with her work appearing in APS News, Symmetry magazine, Scientific American, Nature News, Physics World, and others. From 2010 to 2014 she was a producer for The Physics Central Podcast. Previously, Calla worked at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City (hands down the best office building ever) and SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in California. Calla studied physics at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and is originally from Sandy, Utah. In 2018, Calla left to join NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory media team where she oversees astronomy, physics, exoplanets and the Cold Atom Lab mission. She has been underground at three of the largest particle accelerators in the world and would really like to know what the heck dark matter is. Contact Calla via: E-Mail – Twitter