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Space Station Astronauts Share Thanksgiving Memories (Video)

While Americans all over the country will celebrate Thanksgiving with their families, the Expedition 53 crewmembers on the International Space Station will need to stay where they are — in orbit.

But the busy crew on the station did find time to reflect on the importance of the holiday, and share some memories of family holidays. They delivered their comments in a new video on the NASA Johnson Space Center YouTube channel.

"What we have really enjoyed in a warmer climate, in Houston, is moving our dining room table out onto the sidewalk, and having Thanksgiving outside with our neighbors, which has been a lot of fun," said flight engineer Mark Vande Hei, who is on his first space mission. [Thanksgiving Dinner in Space: How Astronauts Dine on Turkey Day]

When he was a child, Vande Hei recalled, his mother would cook up turkey and cranberry sauce, but it was really the pumpkin pies he looked forward to. "I could usually eat [it] for breakfast over the next three days," he said.

The Thanksgiving staples were a little different in the household of Joe Acaba, flight engineer on Expedition 53. "Our cranberry sauce still had the lines from the can," recalled Acaba, who is on his second mission. "Our stuffing was made out of meat, so we had more meat stuffing inside of the turkey. For some reason, we had shrimp cocktail, and that was one of my favorite parts. Maybe that's traditional, but I don't see it too often."

A typical Thanksgiving for Acaba on Earth sees him getting up early, going for a run and then making a big brunch for the family. The run and the cooking "does give me a chance to reflect on my life, all the things that I have to be thankful for," he said. [Astronaut Photos from Space Station's Expedition 53]

The space station's commander, Randy Bresnik, said he enjoys the time with family and neighbors during Thanksgiving weekend, and that he's always grateful for his family's health and for the abundance of food on the table. "My wife cooks up the most amazing dinner, and we have any family that might be in town, or friends, or people from our church that come on over."

Bresnik is participating in his second spaceflight. On his first mission — space shuttle mission STS-129 in 2009 — his wife gave birth to their daughter, Abigail Mae Bresnik.

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Ahead of the Thanksgiving weekend, the crew checked out the Bigelow Expandable Aerospace Module, which is an inflatable room being tested in space to see how well its materials stand up to an extended time in orbit. The crew also did checks of their vision; NASA astronauts have experienced eye problems in the past and one of NASA's priorities is figuring out how to address the issue.

Meanwhile, NASA posted a recipe for "out of this world" cornbread with directions to complete the recipe on Earth — or in space. 

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Elizabeth Howell
Elizabeth Howell

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. As a proud Trekkie and Canadian, she also tackles topics like diversity, science fiction, astronomy and gaming to help others explore the universe. Elizabeth's on-site reporting includes two human spaceflight launches from Kazakhstan, three space shuttle missions in Florida, and embedded reporting from a simulated Mars mission in Utah. She holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, and a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Her latest book, Leadership Moments from NASA, is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday.