International Space Station astronauts celebrate Thanksgiving in space

27 Nov 2014

NASA astronaut Barry 'Butch' Wilmore takes a selfie with his Thanksgiving meal aboard the International Space Station. Photo via @NASA_Astronauts/Twitter

NASA provides astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) with 4lbs of food per person per day – which sounds about right for a Thanksgiving feast!

That said, a full Turkey Day spread is tricky to achieve in space, so the US space agency has to improvise with thermo-stabilised, freeze-dried and irradiated food products.

These preservation processes ensure that the food delivered to ISS is “shelf-stable”, according to food system manager Vickie Kloeris, as the space station has no refrigerators.

So, on the Thanksgiving Day menu for Barry ‘Butch’ Wilmore, commander of ISS expedition 42, and flight engineer Terry Virts will be irradiated turkey, thermo-stabilised candied yams, and freeze-dried cornbread dressing, mashed potatoes, mushrooms and not-so-green beans.

To wash all of that down, NASA provides astronauts with powdered beverages such as tea with lemon and sugar – which Tennessee-man Wilmore will drink chilled, sweet tea-style.

As Kloeris explains in her video interview with NASA commentator Pat Ryan, NASA prepares food for astronauts up to 18 months in advance, and many of the items on the Thanksgiving menu are part of its standard core menu.

However, astronauts are also allowed a bonus container of “preference food”, which they can fill with seasonal treats – such as cranberry sauce, or icing to decorate cookies – if they know they’ll be spending the holidays on ISS.

International Space Station Thanksgiving food

The ISS Thanksgiving feast provided by NASA. Photo via @NASA_Astronauts/Twitter

Another difference between Thanksgiving in space and on Earth is that there will be no leftovers on ISS. Crew members will have to eat it or toss it.

Ryan and Wilmore will be sharing Thanksgiving with Italian European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti and three Russian cosmonauts.

There are still three-and-a-half months to go for expedition 42, with experiments and spacewalks to be conducted in this time.

Among other things, expedition commander Wilmore is thankful to be able to do a bat impression so effortlessly in his new zero-gravity abode.

Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.