How NASA Astronauts Are Celebrating Christmas in Space

by Maria Hartfield

Some of us are celebrating the holidays further away from home than usual this year. Mark Vande Hei and Tom Marshburn are spending Christmas from the International Space Station.

The two astronauts will work through the holiday as they orbit the planet. However, just because they’re working doesn’t mean they can’t have a little fun.

Vande Hei and Marshburn will make a video call home to wish their families a Merry Christmas. While they wait, a SpaceX cargo vehicle landed at the space station on Wednesday carrying holiday treats and science experiments for the crew.

Last year, Vande Hei recalls while he and his colleagues worked on Christmas Day, the Russian astronauts decorated their area of the space station and kindly invited them over for dinner.

“We were very pleasantly surprised that they had a nice spread for us,” said Vande Hei. “So it’s fun to be up here with wonderful people.”

The orbiting laboratory is hosting a total of seven astronauts throughout the holiday season. This includes personnel from the US, Russia, Japan, and Europe.

Apparently, the international camaraderie on the space station is a very gratifying experience. Especially when traveling so many miles away from Earth.

“It’s a very eye-opening experience,” Vande Hei said. “And the space station is really supporting all of humanity so it gives us a very good sense of purpose.”

In celebration of the holiday season in 2012, the crew got together and decorated a tiny foot-and-a-half Christmas tree on the space station. However, Mashburn mentioned they may need to check if the tree is still on board.

This year, the astronauts are hoping to hang some stockings in addition to the tree. And, for the cherry on top, Mashburn says they want to dress up in Santa hats to get into the holiday mood.

Astronauts Are Well Prepared for Challenges

The NASA astronauts recently went through a traumatic experience when satellite debris almost crashed into the space station. Not to mention the ammonia leak they dealt with earlier this year.

“I think we’re so well trained that we get simulations where everything goes wrong,” said Vande Hei. “So when we have something that goes wrong and it’s not the full complement of wrongness, it feels like it’s an easy simulation.”

Luckily the team has experience from the many simulations they’ve done in training.

“We had some food and water with us and we just waited it out and didn’t have any concerns. If we needed to, we knew that we could just depart the space station, ” he says, “but [I’m] glad it all worked out and we could stay on board.”

Currently, on the expedition, the space station is in a terminator orbit. That means the astronauts are caught in between the line that separates day and night. So it feels like they’re orbiting in the middle of a sunrise or sunset.

“Especially when I first got here, I looked outside, I had no idea where I was,” Marshburn recalls. “It wasn’t like looking at pictures in an atlas.”

Vande Hei says in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic he hopes the human race will face the outbreak with a “strong sense of unity.”