Astronauts have already decked the halls of the International Space Station for the holidays, if some new videos are any indication.
Sporting Santa hats, rookie Expedition 58 crew members David Saint-Jacques (Canadian Space Agency) and Anne McClain (NASA) recorded holiday greetings and memories from their orbital perch in a three-minute Christmas video. Nearby, the infamous Elf on the Shelf keeps watch after prowling around space station for several days; the elf tries unsuccessfully to camouflage itself among the string of national flags behind the crew. (The astronauts go searching for elf in a second adorable video.)
"We wanted to talk to you for a little bit about what the holiday season means to us, both up here on orbit and down on Earth," McClain announces in a video released on Twitter Thursday (Dec. 20). [Elf on a Shelf in Space! Astronaut Anne McClain's Christmas Photos]
"For me, of course, the holiday season means a holiday," adds Saint-Jacques, who grew up in the Montreal area. Sharing a microphone covered with what appears to be a red winter mitten, he continues: "I remember, as a child, spending most of it … at either of my grandparents' home and with cousins and uncles and aunts, and of course my brothers and my parents, and it was always a time of celebration, the presents, and lots of family love. That's what I remember most about the holiday season on Earth. And of course, no school."
After taking the floating mic from Saint-Jacques, McClain shares her own memory from childhood in Spokane, Washington; turns out things haven't changed much in nearly four decades. "For me, the holiday season means our parents lining all the kids up for pictures in front of the tree, which none of us really enjoyed doing that much. So maybe it's not that different up here, as we sit in front of the camera."
The astronauts then show viewers some Christmas presents — in this case, food wrapped up in shiny cellophane. Saint-Jacques displays some Canadian salmon, while McClain pulls out turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and "plenty of desserts," she says, because "Christmas dinner is not Christmas dinner if it's not 50 percent dessert."
In quick succession, the astronauts toss the (carefully wrapped) pies, cookies, turkey and other cellophane-wrapped edibles up to the ceiling of the Japanese Kibo module, where they filmed their short segment.
McClain adds that the crew of herself, Saint-Jacques and four-time spaceflyer Russian Oleg Kononenko is "very lucky to be up here, because we have a view of the planet [like] no other," with the borderless Earth reminding the people on board about the importance of unity and peace.
"It's also a great place from which to look back on the whole trace of your own life," adds Saint-Jacques. Looking down at Earth, "I can see everywhere I have ever been, from up here. I can think of all the people I know and love. In a matter of a day, I can fly over wherever they live."
The astronauts close with holiday greetings in English and from the bilingual Saint-Jacques) in French. McClain does a quick somersault and Saint-Jacques "launches" up to the ceiling and out of sight, McClain hot on his heels.
Most likely, their next duties will be picking up all the food they tossed up there and hoping Christmas dinner didn't get squashed. But even if it did, it's all in good fun. After all, in what other situation can adults throw food — all for the sake of public engagement in science?
Just hours before this video was posted, Expedition 56-7 crew members Alexander Gerst (European Space Agency), Serena Auñón-Chancellor (NASA) and Sergey Prokopyev (Roscosmos) made a safe yet cold landing back in Kazakhstan, where they launched during springtime heat on June 6. Their remarkable 197-day stay in space included witnessing a Soyuz launch abort and dealing with a leak on their own Soyuz spacecraft, which fortunately was located on a portion not needed for landing.
Their arrival back on Earth means that the three-member Expedition 58 crew will work by itself for the better part of two months, until the Expedition 59 crew launches to join them on Feb. 28. Expedition 58's stay is expected to coincide with the launch of the first commercial crew vehicle test from SpaceX scheduled for Jan. 7, in preparation for forthcoming astronaut flights.
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Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for Space.com for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace