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Eat up! Here’s what’s on the Thanksgiving menu for International Space Station crew


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“The food that NASA’s early astronauts had to eat in space is a testament to their fortitude,” reads a NASA space-food synopsis that describes how Mercury astronauts had to consume unappetizing bite-sized cubes and semi-liquids, stuffed into aluminum tubes.

But this Thanksgiving, the multinational crew aboard the International Space Station will feast on a cornucopia of tasty meats, side dishes and desserts, courtesy of a SpaceX Dragon cargo capsule resupply run to the orbiting outpost roughly 250 miles above sea level.

“Because we’re in the holiday season, we’ve got some fun holiday treats for the crew like chocolate, pumpkin spice cappuccino, rice cakes, turkey, duck, quail, seafood, cranberry sauce and mochi,” Dana Weigel, NASA’s International Space Station deputy program manager, said during a Nov. 8 media teleconference.

“We’ve also got some pizza kits — which are a favorite for our crew — some hummus, salsa and olives,” Weigel said.

The ISS astronauts’ Thanksgiving meal will mark NASA’s 50th year of celebrating the holiday in space, dating back to Skylab, America’s first space station.

Last fall, NASA astronaut Josh Cassada delivered Thanksgiving-week greetings back to Earth via video while floating inside the ISS.

“Up here, we’re on Greenwich Mean Time, which means that for half the planet we live in the future. So much so that we’ll be celebrating Thanksgiving on Tuesday this year and working a bit on Thursday,” Cassada said to the camera.

“But I think we’ll still have some time to catch some football and eat some great Thanksgiving fare,” Cassada said.

This Thanksgiving season, Commander Andreas Mogensen of Denmark is leading Crew 70 at the space station, which includes six flight engineers: NASA’s Jasmin Moghbeli and Loral O’Hara; Satoshi Furukawa of Japan; and Konstantin Borisov, Nikolai Chub and Oleg Kononenko of Russia.

The night of Nov. 9, a SpaceX Falcon 9 soared into orbit from Cape Canaveral on the NASA resupply mission, carrying the Dragon cargo capsule loaded with 1,501 pounds of crew supplies into low-Earth orbit.

In addition to the Thanksgiving-holiday treats Weigel listed during the teleconference, NASA spokesperson Stephanie Plucinsky said the astronauts’ menu includes:

  • A fresh food kit of citrus fruits, apples, cherry tomatoes and other items.
  • Two cold stowage kits containing cheeses: Parmesan, Romano, cheddar, Asiago and Gruyère.

NASA history of Thanksgiving in space

NASA’s tradition of Thanksgivings in space dates to Nov. 22, 1973. That’s when Skylab 4 astronauts Gerald Carr, Edward Gibson and William Pogue wolfed down two meals at dinnertime, although holiday foods were absent in those pioneering days.

Gibson and Pogue had completed a spacewalk lasting 6 hour, 33 minutes, earlier that day — and all three astronauts skipped lunch.

NASA’s next Thanksgiving in space occurred in 1985 aboard space shuttle Atlantis. The seven-member crew of STS-61B celebrated with irradiated turkey, cranberry sauce and shrimp cocktail.

In a milestone of NASA culinary lore, payload specialist Rodolfo Neri Vela of Mexico — the first Hispanic shuttle astronaut — introduced tortillas to the space menu during that mission. They have remained a staple ever since.

Why? Unlike tortillas, bread can generate hundreds of hazardous crumbs in microgravity, floating in all directions into equipment gaps, nooks and crannies.

More NASA Thanksgiving highlights:

  • In 1997, a then-record-high nine people from four nations celebrated Thanksgiving aboard the Russian space station Mir and shuttle Columbia during the STS-87 mission.
  • NASA astronaut William Shepherd and Russian cosmonauts Yuri Gidzenko and Sergei Krikalev ate ham and smoked turkey during the first Thanksgiving aboard the ISS in 2000, three weeks after they arrived from Earth.
  • A dozen crew members from the U.S., Russia, Belgium and Canada celebrated two days early in 2009. Why? Because shuttle Atlantis undocked from the ISS on Thanksgiving Day.

An astronaut favorite: shrimp cocktail

Earlier this month, the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex hosted “Taste of Space: Celebrity Chef Edition.” The culinary cooking event featured chefs Duff Goldman (“Ace of Cakes,” “Kids Baking Championship”), Esther Choi (“Beat Bobby Flay,” “Chopped”) and Jon Ashton (“The Today Show,” “The Tonight Show”). They paired with retired NASA shuttle astronauts Anna Fisher, Bruce Melnick and Tony Antonelli for cooking demonstrations.

Before the Nov. 3 event, Fisher, Melnick and Antonelli chatted about space foods with FLORIDA TODAY. Melnick said at least 50% of shuttle-era astronauts would choose shrimp cocktail as their favorite space food. However, he said the dehydrated meal’s vacuum-sealed packages appeared thoroughly unappetizing.

“It looks like Styrofoam packing equipment inside red Georgia clay. It looks horrible,” Melnick recalled.

“On the shuttle, we didn’t have a refrigerator. So what you’d do is, you’d shake it up to rehydrate it, and you’d Velcro it to an air-conditioning vent. That way, it would be chilling while you were letting it rehydrate. You’d float around for whatever you’re going to do for the next 20 minutes or half hour,” he said.

“You’d come back and pick it up. And when you opened it up, that Styrofoam-looking stuff in Georgia clay — or pitcher’s mound clay — turned into the nicest, most beautiful plump jumbo shrimp you ever saw. And that orange sand turned into great cocktail sauce, ketchup and horseradish. And it was delicious. It was great,” he said.


Esther Choi, Duff Goldman, Jon Ashton to be part of Taste of Space

Celebrity chefs Esther Choi and Duff Goldman to join veteran astronauts at Taste of Space: Fall Bites events at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.

Like most astronauts, Fisher said she suffered from space adaptation syndrome — a physiological disorientation akin to seasickness — during her first two days in microgravity, so she ate little more than nuts and M&Ms.

“I woke up in the morning on the third day, and I just felt great. And I was starving. And I had a hot dog,” Fisher recalled.

“It was the best hot dog — probably the most expensive hot dog — I’ve ever had in my life, whatever the weight-to-orbit (cost) is,” she said, laughing.

More: See how SpaceX’s Starlink is driving record rocket launches on Florida’s Space Coast

Looking to the future, Antonelli said astronauts enjoying meals together will play a pivotal morale-building role during NASA’s future deep-space journeys.

“The Navy submarine community is one, but there are plenty of others all over the place that understand the importance of food for long durations,” Antonelli said.

“If we do a three-year round trip to Mars, without question the breaking of bread together as a crew will be an important part of that mission,” he said.

Rick Neale is a Space Reporter at FLORIDA TODAY (for more of his stories, click here.) Contact Neale at 321-242-3638 or rneale@floridatoday.com. Twitter/X: @RickNeale1

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