Dec 24, 2020 - Science

Celebrating the holidays in orbit

A fake Christmas tree floats in the window of the International Space Station. You can see Earth's white clouds and blue oceans under it.

A Christmas tree above Earth on the ISS in 2015. Photo: NASA

Seven astronauts and cosmonauts on the International Space Station will celebrate the holidays 250 miles above their families on Earth this year.

The cosmic picture: The space station has developed its own culture of decorations, traditions and time off for the holidays each year as crew members celebrate with each other, far from home.

What's happening: NASA's Kate Rubins, Victor Glover, Michael Hopkins, and Shannon Walker, along with Japan's Soichi Noguchi and Russian cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov will ride out the holidays together on the ISS.

  • The crew members will share a holiday meal on Christmas Day, as other crews have done for years before them.
  • The crew will also decorate their home away from home, with plans for a Christmas decoration contest with Mission Control in Houston that will be decided on Christmas Eve, according to Rubins.
  • Crew members will also get a chance to speak with their families and get some time off for the holiday.

"I’ll spend some time thinking about and praying for all the folks that don’t get to be at home with their loved ones," Glover said during an interview with WNYW-TV broadcast by NASA Tuesday. "We understand that. We relate to it, and we’ll be thinking of them as well."

The backstory: In the 20 years since the space station became continuously staffed by rotating crews of astronauts and cosmonauts, crew members and space agencies have sent up holiday decorations like stockings and hats that have remained on the station.

  • Those decorations have now been used by multiple crews, with some hanging up stockings and displaying a small, fake Christmas tree.
  • Various crews have also decorated Christmas cookies in recent years, according to NASA.
  • And it's not just Christmas. Last year, NASA's Jessica Meir celebrated Hanukkah from aboard the station with some special socks and good wishes for the holiday.
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