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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: © 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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