This week, Gardeners Off World is blasting off to celebrate an off-world Thanksgiving. Let’s rehydrate some turkey!

The third Skylab crew – astronauts Gerald Carr, William Pogue and Edward Gibson – celebrated the first Thanksgiving in space in 1973. They didn’t get the day off, though, and Gibson and Pogue suited up and stepped out of the Skylab for a six-hour and 33-minute spacewalk. (Their punishing schedule later led to the infamous Skylab Mutiny.)

The second thanksgiving in space was a little more relaxed:

“And when we were done [eating] we didn’t go watch a football game on TV. We went to the window and watched the Earth go by at five miles a second. I can’t imagine a better way to celebrate a Thanksgiving unless you’re with your friends and family.”

Astronaut Jerry Ross, STS-61B, November 1985, via Kennedy Space Center

In 1991, Fred Gregory was one of the first astronauts to eat a second Thanksgiving dinner in space. “Just as on earth,” he says, “our feelings about Thanksgiving in space weren’t determined by the quality or the appearance of the meal—but by the people we shared it with.”

Off-world Thanksgiving then became an international affair. In 1996, the STS-80 crew celebrated Thanksgiving aboard Space Shuttle Columbia, while astronaut John Blaha celebrated the holiday on Mir with cosmonauts Valery Korzun and Alexander Kaleri. In 1997, it was the turn of astronaut David Wolf to spend the holiday on Mir, as the STS-87 crew orbited the Earth aboard Space Shuttle Columbia

ISS Expedition 1. Commander Bill Shepherd, and Flight Engineers Yuri Gidzenko and Sergei Krikalev pose with a model of their home away from home.
Image Credit: NASA

The first crew to live on the ISS arrived on 2nd November 2000 and stayed for several months. Astronaut Bill Shepherd and cosmonauts Yuri Gidzenko and Sergei Krikalev observed Thanksgiving with a dinner of ham and smoked turkey aboard the Zvezda module. They went on to be the first ISS crew to spend Christmas in orbit, opening presents and receiving holiday greetings from NASA Administrator Dan Goldin.

“In 2001, Expedition 3 Commander Frank Culbertson and Flight Engineer Mikhail Tyurin gave a demonstration of how the ISS turkey is cut. Culbertson used a pocketknife, rather than a carving knife, to open the package containing the rehydrated turkey.”

Out of this world thanksgiving

Peggy Whitson spent six months aboard the ISS on Expedition 5 in 2002, including Thanksgiving:

“For Thanksgiving, it was a lot like being home, except that we (Station crew) were hosts to our visiting family/friends (STS-113 Shuttle crew). After a challenging day of work, which included the preparations for and the conduct of a spacewalk with robotic arm support, we celebrated with smoked turkey in foil pouches, rehydrated mash potatoes (unfortunately sans gravy), and rehydrated green beans with mushrooms (better than it might sound).

Blueberry-cherry cobbler, compliments of our guests, and served on a tortilla was a real dessert treat for the Station crew, since that was not included in our meal rotations. Celebrating this holiday in space with some visiting friends was a very special experience, one that I will remember fondly in Thanksgivings to come.” 

Expedition 5 NASA ISS Science Officer Peggy Whitson

John Herrington offers a different perspective on that holiday meal:

Fast forward to 2009, and the crew of space shuttle Atlantis missed out on a Thanksgiving meal when their launch was delayed. Their rations were picked out months in advance, and the astronauts didn’t anticipate being in space for Thanksgiving. 

Commander Charlie Hobaugh had rehydratable vegetarian chilli and thermostabilised chicken fajitas. He said: “You know, Thanksgiving isn’t all about what you eat. It’s the people you spend it with. We’re just going to have a great time.”

Scott Kelly spent a year in space, from March 2015. His twin brother Mark stayed on Earth, and the two compared their Thanksgiving meals on Twitter:

ISS Thanksgiving 2015
ISS Thanksgiving 2016
ISS Thanksgiving 2018

In 2012, Wired gave some thought to what Martians will have for their Thanksgiving dinner in 2030, consulting NASA senior research scientist Maya Cooper. There’s no turkey!

Veggie loaf
Foods destined for Mars need a shelf life of up to five years—longer than space chow of the past. Most animal products can’t be stabilised for that long, so no turkey. This soy protein loaf is as close as Cooper has come to an actual bird. No fighting over the drumsticks.”

However, there will be a hydroponic greenhouse in which to grow those all-important green beans, potatoes and sweet potatoes. The tubers will have to be baked, not boiled though. Martians are likely to be living in a reduced pressure environment, which means water boils at too low a temperature to cook food.

[Botanical interlude: when is a yam not a yam? When it’s a sweet potato. The Kitchn has the low-down on the difference between yams and sweet potatoes. Gizmodo also explained why sweet potatoes are an astronaut superfood.]

And for dessert? Pinto bean pie, which (apparently) will be just like pecan pie, without the pecans. You can try it for yourself – there are plenty of recipes on the internet, including this one from Chickens in the Road.

Smoked turkey, candied yams and NASA’s famous cornbread dressing

You can also give NASA’s own out-of-this-world cornbread dressing recipe a whirl.

Astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor harvests red Russian kale and dragoon lettuce from Veggie on Nov. 28, 2018, just in time for Thanksgiving. The crew got to enjoy a mid-afternoon snack with balsamic vinegar, and Auñón-Chancellor reported the lettuce was “delicious!” Credits: ESA/Alexander Gerst

Last year, ISS astronauts were looking forward to some fresh greens with their Thanksgiving meal. Serena Auñón-Chancellor planted two new crops, “Red Russian” kale and “Dragoon” lettuce in the Veggie plant growth facility as part of NASA’s Veg-03 G experiment. Interestingly, these two crops were selected by students participating in the Grow Beyond Earth Scheme, a collaboration between NASA and Fairchild Tropical Botanic Gardens. 

This year  Jessica Meir and Christina Koch will be harvesting mizuna leaves from the Veg-04 experiment. The astronauts will be doing a taste test, and storing some of the harvest to be returned to Earth, but there may some leftover to add to the Thanksgiving table.

The mission insignia for the Expedition 61 crew.

Expedition 61 is onboard the ISS for Thanksgiving 2019. That’s Christina Koch (NASA), Jessica Meir (NASA), Andrew Morgan (NASA), Luca Parmitano (ESA), Oleg Skripochka (Roscosmos) and Alexander Skvortsov (Roscosmos).

ISS Thanksgiving 2019

Happy Thanksgiving! GoffW will return next Friday, with less festive fare.

Astronaut Snoopy Is Cleared for Take-off for the 93rd Annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade® in Celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the Moon Landing and Future Space Missions
(Graphic: Business Wire)