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Zero-gravity cookies and Santa space suits: Here's what it's like to spend Christmas on the International Space Station

Dec 25, 2019, 15:31 IST

Christmas on the ISS can get pretty festive - especially in zero gravity.NASA
  • There are often astronauts up in the ISS over Christmas.
  • Despite being posted to a cramped space station, they still manage to celebrate Christmas with most of the traditional trappings.
  • If they're lucky they get the day off as well.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

No one likes spending Christmas at work if they can help it, but sometimes there's just no getting out of it. For example, if you are stationed in orbit 250 miles above the planet.

But despite being as far away as it's humanly possible to get from Earth - where Christmas was invented - astronauts aboard the International Space Station manage to keep their workplace pretty festive. They festoon the station with decorations, put up Christmas trees, open presents, and even get Christmas dinner.

Here are some amazing moments from the many Christmases which have been celebrated aboard the ISS.

Of course to have a real Christmas you need a Christmas tree.

Astronauts may not be able to pick their own real fir tree, but for years they've been bringing up fake ones and adorning them with tinsel and decorations.

Over the decades astronauts have sometimes had to improvise.

This Christmas tree is fashioned from empty food containers, and was made by three astronauts aboard the ISS on the Skylab 4 mission in 1973.

For years astronauts have been decorating Christmas cookies in zero-gravity.

In November this year a specially designed "space oven" was shipped to the astronauts on the ISS to experiment on the impact intense heat and zero-gravity would have on baking cookies, however NASA confirmed that the astronauts will only be baking five experimental cookies in this oven and will not eat them.

The astronauts get Christmas dinner.

It's impossible to prepare a full roast meal on the ISS, but astronauts still get an approximation of a Christmas dinner.

For Christmas 2018 crew members got a meal of smoked turkey, candied yams, corn, green beans, mac and cheese, and potatoes au gratin. This was followed by dessert options of strawberries, bread pudding, butter cookies, and shortbread cookies.

This feast was shipped up to the astronauts a few weeks ahead of Christmas aboard a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft.

A NASA spokesperson sent Business Insider a list of what's on the menu for the ISS crew this Christmas.

Among the festive fresh ingredients being sent up are:

  • Eight turkey strips with cranberry and sage.
  • Twelve oranges.
  • One tub of peanut butter.

And among the dry and canned goods:

  • Nine gingerbread cookies.
  • Six jars of pickles.
  • One wheel of brie.
  • One fruit cake.

NASA also confirmed it has shipped two Rudolph noses up with the food.

Stockings have also become a regular feature — although the lack of gravity means they don't necessarily hang the way they usually do.

On Christmas morning astronauts emerge from their sleeping quarters to find their stockings and presents just like on Earth.

Presents from the astronauts' families are shipped up to the ISS ahead of Christmas day. Their families have to be organised, sometimes sending presents up as early as November to coincide with cargo ships travelling to the station with new supplies and science experiments.

This year's batch of Christmas presents and food was brought up by another SpaceX Dragon ship on December 8.

It's not just their families that give them gifts, the astronauts also get presents for each other.

In 2014 US astronaut Terry Virts tweeted that he'd got a harmonica from Russian cosmonaut Elena Sorova.

opening presents - I got a harmonica frome Elena Serova. Now I need to learn how to play! pic.twitter.com/rT0E9ZqynO

— Terry Virts (@AstroTerry) December 25, 2014

Santa Claus hats are another staple, as exemplified in this photo of astronaut Scott Kelly (2010).

This picture from Christmas 2011 shows that elf hats are also permitted.

And of course decorations are a must, as proven by this photo taken in the run-up to Christmas aboard the Russian segment of the ISS in 2012.

The decorations can get pretty space-specific.

Stuffing empty space suits and putting hats on them appears to have caught on, in 2014 US astronaut astronaut Terry Virts shared this picture.

Virts and his team also left some "powdered milk and freeze dried cookies" for Santa according to ABC — although without a chimney, they had to settle for leaving them by the airlock.

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield is famous for his orbital musical renditions, and Christmas is no exception.

This photo was taken on Christmas day 2012, and according to NASA Hadfield later joined the rest of the crew for an "assortment of Christmas carols."

Sometimes astronauts get the day off, but not always.

In 2018 two out of the three crew members got the whole day off, while a third had to carry out a few odd jobs. "The only tasks on their schedule for Xmas besides meals and exercise are some blood and saliva sample draws for human research studies," a spokesperson told Space.com.

Sometimes the astronauts have more serious Christmas duties to attend to. On Christmas Eve 2013 NASA astronauts Mike Hopkins and Rick Mastracchio ventured outside the ISS on a space walk to fix a broken cooling system.

Even though the ISS might lack a few home comforts, being in space is a pretty unique way to spend the holiday.

Last year astronaut Anne McClain shared what it feels like to look down on the Earth at Christmas time.

And in 2014 Terry Virts tweeted a video of what he called the ISS' version of Christmas lights.

This holiday season, I find myself looking down at ‘home’ a lot. We really are all on this amazing, beautiful planet together – it truly is a small world. And when I watched the moon set over the horizon today, I once again found myself without words. pic.twitter.com/QKAgEZqwFW

— Anne McClain (@AstroAnnimal) December 23, 2018

Our version of Christmas lights, the station color glow during every day-night transition #SpaceVine https://t.co/vlpHiu0Bis

— Terry Virts (@AstroTerry) December 25, 2014

NASA confirmed there will be crew members spending Christmas 2019 aboard the ISS.

There are six astronauts currently aboard the ISS. The crew already spent Thanksgiving in space.

Astronaut Christina Koch answered a question from a high-schooler about how she makes the ISS feel like home while she's away from her family.

"We have plenty of Christmas gear up here and we like to actually get in the spirit quite a bit," replied Koch, donning a Santa hat.

"We sing Christmas carols sometimes, even on the radios, we have cookie decorating, we play Christmas music all the time — sometimes in the background when we're working and sometimes at a meal. I think we might all have some Christmas presents for each other stashed away somewhere so we're definitely trying to get into the Christmas spirit," she said.

They all felt like Friendsgiving. Thankful this year for five different crews and the memories we had together on @Space_Station. #HappyThanksgiving pic.twitter.com/UvJvEd2Yzp

— Christina H Koch (@Astro_Christina) November 28, 2019

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