While many Americans enjoy a long holiday weekend this Memorial Day, there will be no barbecues for astronauts on the International Space Station - and not just because open flames aren't allowed on the spacecraft.
The six people living on the space station have a busy weekend of packing ahead and will spend Memorial Day shifting command of the orbiting lab to its new Expedition 24 crew instead of relaxing, NASA officials said Friday.
That staff change is coming as station crewmembers Oleg Kotov of Russia, Timothy "T.J." Creamer of NASA, and astronaut Soichi Noguchi of Japan prepare to return to Earth on Tuesday, June 1.
"There are no formal plans to mark Memorial Day on the station this Monday, in part because the crew will be extremely busy preparing for the departure of Kotov, Creamer and Noguchi on the following day," NASA spokesperson Kelly Humphries told SPACE.com.
Memorial Day in space
But Humphries said the space station crew has not forgotten what Memorial Day is about in the United States.
"Some crew members have been remembering our troops every Friday by wearing red shirts. T.J. Creamer is continuing that tradition today," he added. Creamer is a U.S. Army colonel making his first long-duration spaceflight on the space station.
There won't be a Memorial Day cookout, though. Open flames aren't allowed on the space station because they pose a fire risk.
Kotov, a Russian cosmonaut, commanded the space station's Expedition 23 crew. He arrived at the space station in December on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft that also ferried Creamer and Noguchi to the orbiting laboratory.
Since then, the spaceflyers have hosted three visiting NASA space shuttles that delivered vital spare parts and supplies, as well as a new NASA room, seven-window observation deck and Russian research module.
The Soyuz TMA-17 spacecraft that brought Kotov and his two returning crewmates to the station is due to undock from the outpost Tuesday at 8:08 p.m. EDT (0008 Wednesday GMT) and land on the steppes of Kazakhstan in Central Asia at 11:27 p.m. EDT (0327 GMT).
Ready for home
This month has been a frantic marathon of activity for the space station's crew.
The astronauts and cosmonauts discarded an unmanned cargo ship, moved a Soyuz vehicle to a new docking port to make way for a $200 million Russian compartment called Rassvet ("Dawn" in Russian). That new space room was delivered by NASA's shuttle Atlantis, which launched to the station on May 14 and returned to Earth this week to wrap up its last planned flight.
On Monday night at 9 p.m. EDT (0100 Tuesday GMT), Kotov will officially hand control of the space station over to fellow cosmonaut Alexander Skvortsov, who will lead the outpost's new Expedition 24 crew.
Skvortsov arrived at the space station in early April with Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko and NASA astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson. The trio of spaceflyers will remain behind to await the arrival of three new crewmembers slated to launch from Kazakhstan's Baikonur Cosmodrome on June 15.