Christmas in Orbit: Astronauts Make Merry Aboard the Space Station

NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson dons a Santa hat and Christmas socks in weightlessness to celebrate the holidays on the International Space Station on Dec. 22, 2016.
NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson dons a Santa hat and Christmas socks in weightlessness to celebrate the holidays on the International Space Station on Dec. 22, 2016. (Image credit: NASA/Peggy Whitson via Twitter)

Astronauts Peggy Whitson, Shane Kimbrough and Thomas Pesquet discuss Christmas on the International Space Station. (Image credit: NASA)

Today, astronauts on the International Space Station will celebrate the day in many of the same ways that people on Earth celebrate the holiday — relaxing, talking to friends and family, and sharing a special meal. But they do it all while weightlessly floating inside a laboratory that's whizzing around the Earth at 17,500 mph (28,000 kilometers/hour).

Astronauts at the space station even have gifts from home to open this morning. The gifts were sent to space earlier this month inside a Japanese cargo supply ship. Because the spacecraft goes around the Earth every 92 minutes, its occupants will see about 15 sunrises throughout the day. That's 15 Christmas mornings in less than 24 hours!

Instead of waking up and getting straight to work, like they did on Thanksgiving, the astronauts will enjoy the day off for Christmas. NASA spokesman Dan Huot told that the astronauts usually get Sundays off anyway, so this year they'll have Monday (Dec. 26) off as well. [Holidays in Space: An Astronaut Photo Album]

As is tradition, the astronauts sent Christmas wishes down from space this week in preparation for the worldwide holiday. On Tuesday (Dec. 20), NASA shared a video in which three of the six crewmembers aboard the station talked about what the holiday means to them — and what's on the dinner menu, of course.

French astronaut Thomas Pesquet rocks a classic Santa hat in the video. In that weightless environment, though, his hat takes on the pointy shape of one you'd find on an elf or a lawn gnome. At least it didn't float away from his head. Kudos to Pesquet for sporting his Christmas spirit!

Pesquet talked about his big family back home in France, where his grandmother would usually cook huge meals for him and his 25 cousins. "I won't be able to be there of course but I'll think of them. I'll try to give them a call and catch up as much as I can and make the most of this opportunity to look at the Earth and reflect about what Christmas means to us, to individuals, to the world in general, and I think we'll have a good time on board the ISS and share a Christmas meal together," Pesquet said. [Space Christmas: Festive Photos of Cosmic Beauty]

Their meal will consist of many of the same foods Americans eat during the holidays — turkey, green beans, potatoes, cornbread stuffing and fruit salad. But instead of using plates, they’ll be eating out of cans and pouches. The astronauts even get to enjoy some gingerbread cookies, chocolate cake and hot cocoa for dessert. [Space Food Photos: What Astronauts Eat in Orbit]

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station show off their Christmas dinner. NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson sends a package of dehydrated mashed potatoes floating in microgravity while holding packets of cider and hot cocoa. NASA astronaut and ISS commander Shane Kimbrough holds packages with turkey, fruit salad, green beans and potatoes. French astronaut Thomas Pesquet looks on in a weightless Santa hat. (Image credit: NASA)

Besides the traditional American holiday fare, Pesquet has some "French delicacies" to share with his crewmates: chicken supreme with morels and ox tongue, for example. From the subtle looks on his face, American astronaut and ISS commander Shane Kimbrough seemed a bit skeptical about trying the foreign foods  Pesquet discusses in the video.

NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson was also in the video. "I think being on board the ISS gives us a slightly different perspective of Christmas," she said. "Obviously friends and family are important to all of us. But besides funny hats there is another very important aspect of being on [the] ISS, and that’s seeing the planet as a whole, and it actually reinforces, I think, that the fact that we should live as one people and strive for peace."

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Hanneke Weitering
Contributing expert

Hanneke Weitering is a multimedia journalist in the Pacific Northwest reporting on the future of aviation at and Aviation International News and was previously the Editor for Spaceflight and Astronomy news here at As an editor with over 10 years of experience in science journalism she has previously written for Scholastic Classroom Magazines, MedPage Today and The Joint Institute for Computational Sciences at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. After studying physics at the University of Tennessee in her hometown of Knoxville, she earned her graduate degree in Science, Health and Environmental Reporting (SHERP) from New York University. Hanneke joined the team in 2016 as a staff writer and producer, covering topics including spaceflight and astronomy. She currently lives in Seattle, home of the Space Needle, with her cat and two snakes. In her spare time, Hanneke enjoys exploring the Rocky Mountains, basking in nature and looking for dark skies to gaze at the cosmos.