NASA Astronauts Share Christmas Memories from Space (Video)

Two NASA astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) share some of their favorite Christmas memories in a new holiday video.

Expedition 54 flight engineer Joe Acaba recalled a family trip to the Turks and Caicos Islands, a British territory in the Caribbean, for a special tropical Christmas.

"We were celebrating my sister-in-law's 5-year battle against cancer," Acaba said in the 90-second video, which NASA posted on YouTube Wednesday (Dec. 20). "She's doing great. There's nothing better than having the family together, celebrating it together. We love you, Liz!" [Holidays in Space: An Astronaut Photo Album]

Fellow Expedition 54 flight engineer Mark Vande Hei remembered coming downstairs on Christmas morning as a child and being overwhelmed by the number of presents waiting to be opened.

"It looked to me like the whole floor that the Christmas tree was on was full of gifts," Vande Hei said. "That gave me proof that Santa Claus was real, so I almost got in some fights at school, because people were trying to convince me that Santa Claus wasn't real."

As far as favorite Christmas gifts go, Acaba cited a treasured BMX bike, sounding very much like the Southern California kid that he once was: "We would be out, riding through the orange groves, and just having a great time. It was totally cool."

Vande Hei, by contrast, singled out something that kept him inside for long stretches. 

"Gosh, my mom's going to be disappointed in me for saying this," he said. "When we got an Atari, I spent way too many hours playing on that thing." 

Six spaceflyers will spend the holidays aboard the orbiting lab this year. In addition to Acaba and Vande Hei, they are NASA astronaut Scott Tingle, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Norishige Kanai, and cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Alexander Misurkin (who commands Expedition 54).

ISS crewmembers' schedules are pretty packed, but this group will definitely celebrate the season, as spaceflyers have for 17 straight years. (The station has been continuously staffed by rotating crews since November 2000.)

"We [already] have a Christmas tree aboard, and there is a new Christmas tree arriving soon," Shkaplerov told reporters Saturday (Dec. 16), one day before he, Tingle and Kanai launched toward the ISS from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The trio arrived at the station on Tuesday (Dec. 19).

"We have packages and gifts from our families and friends, and packages on board the ISS labeled to open on Dec. 25 for U.S. crewmembers and Dec. 31 for us from Russia," Shkaplerov added.

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Mike Wall
Senior Space Writer

Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.