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Astronauts celebrate July 4 in space and pay honor to Houston

NASA astronauts Bob Hines (left) and Kjell Lindgren deliver an Independence Day message from the International Space Station on July 4, 2022.
NASA astronauts Bob Hines (left) and Kjell Lindgren deliver an Independence Day message from the International Space Station on July 4, 2022. (Image credit: NASA)

As usual, the pan-American celebrations of July 4 reached into orbit, this year with a tribute to Houston.

NASA astronauts Kjell Lindgren and Bob Hines, both working as a part of Expedition 67 on the International Space Station, sent a message wishing their compatriots on Earth a happy Independence Day.

"Let's celebrate together. Happy Fourth of July!" Lindgren said in concluding the message on Twitter (opens in new tab), which was mostly a thank-you to the employees of the Houston-based NASA Johnson Space Center or JSC (which posted the tweet).

JSC, first named the Manned Spacecraft Center, was established in 1961 and is celebrating its 60th year of operations in 2021-22. It serves as the hub of astronaut training, and will soon be working on getting the first Artemis crews ready to land on the moon again later in the 2020s, the astronauts said.

Hines also posted a celebratory message on Twitter (opens in new tab), calling back to the name of the spacecraft, which lofted him to space. SpaceX Crew Dragon "Freedom" brought Hines, Lindgren, NASA astronaut Jessica Watkins and European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti to the International Space Station on April 27 and will also serve as their ride home.

"Happy Birthday, America! The crew of FREEDOM and Expedition 67 wishes everyone back home a Happy Independence Day," Hines said.

Festooning the message with emojis showing fireworks, flags and burgers, Hines added, "I am so thankful for the opportunities our country provides. God Bless America."

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While there were no crews in orbit in 1962 when JSC was established, Houston did hold a Fourth of July motorcade featuring the Mercury 7 astronauts, NASA said in a June 30 feature (opens in new tab) about July 4 and spaceflight. Among the participants was Alan Shepard, the first American to fly in space in 1961.

The first astronauts to celebrate July 4 in orbit were the STS-4 space shuttle crew of Thomas "Ken" Mattingly and Henry "Hank" Hartsfield in 1982, NASA said. The duo also landed space shuttle Columbia that day at Edwards Air Force Base in California, marking the first time any orbiter touched down on a concrete runway.

Since 2001, there has been at least one American in orbit on Independence Day every year thanks to the growth of the International Space Station, which first welcomed long-duration crews in November 2000. One of those astronauts, Chris Cassidy, even ran the "Four [Mile] on the 4th" (opens in new tab) road race in space during Independence Day 2013.

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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 Space.com (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.