The people of Earth rang in the year 2021 with fireworks and social distancing amid the global coronavirus pandemic last night. Even astronauts in space found a way to celebrate in their own unique way: a ball drop in zero gravity.
In a video from the International Space Station on New Year's Eve (Dec. 31), five of the six astronauts living aboard the orbiting lab revealed what ringing in 2021 would look in in space. All they needed was a globe of the Earth.
"We wanted to take a moment to wish all of you a very happy New Year," NASA astronaut Kate Rubins said in the video, which NASA released on YouTube.
"One of the most famous New Year's Eve traditions is watching the ball drop in Times Square in New York City," NASA astronaut Victor Glover added, referring to the iconic celebration in which thousands of revelers pack New York City's Times Square to watch a glittering ball drop at midnight to mark the new year.
This year, as New York City works to limit the spread of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, officials blocked off Times Square to most revelers.
"As many of us celebrate the new year from home, we brought this famous tradition to space to share with you," NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins said in the video.
"Since we are in zero gravity, we have a special twist," added astronaut Soichi Noguchi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.
That twist? In zero gravity, the ball can drop up.
"3, 2, 1, happy New Year!" the astronauts cheered in the video, which they did prerecord ahead of the actual new year.
"We hope this inspires you to celebrate in your own way," NASA astronaut Shannon Walker added just ahead of that final count.
Glover, Hopkins, Noguchi, Rubins and Walker are part of the International Space Station's seven-person Expedition 64 crew, with Russian cosmonauts Sergey Kud-Sverchkov and Sergey Ryzhikov of Roscosmos rounding out the team. Rubins, Kud-Sverchkov and Ryzhikov launched to the station in October on a Russian Soyuz rocket, while the rest of the crew launched to the station in November on SpaceX's Crew-1 Crew Dragon spacecraft. They named the ship Resilience in part to honor humanity's battle against the coronavirus.
Celebrating a New Year holiday in space is a bit trickier than it seems, but it is a vacation day for the station's crew.
"The seven Expedition 64 crew members aboard the International Space Station will see the New Year 16 times today and take the day off on the first day of 2021," NASA officials said in a statement.
The space station orbits the Earth once every 90 minutes or so, making 16 laps around the planet each day, hence the potential for 16 New Year celebrations.
"The station orbits the Earth at 17,500 miles per hour (28,000 kilometers per hour) giving the crew the opportunity to see 16 sunrises and sunsets each day," NASA officials said. "The space residents set their clocks to GMT, or Greenwich Mean Time, and will start their new year at 12:00 a.m. GMT on Jan. 1, or five hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time."
Email Tariq Malik at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him @tariqjmalik. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Instagram.
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Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of Space.com and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became Space.com's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining Space.com, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. In October 2022, Tariq received the Harry Kolcum Award for excellence in space reporting from the National Space Club Florida Committee. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. You can find Tariq at Space.com and as the co-host to the This Week In Space podcast with space historian Rod Pyle on the TWiT network. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter @tariqjmalik.