When Endeavour Commander Chris Ferguson realized he and his crew would unexpectedly be spending Thanksgiving in space, he asked the kitchen at the Johnson Space Center if it was possible for them to throw together a Thanksgiving meal.
Michele Perchonok and her staff scrambled to serve up a short order feast. Perchonok is the lead advanced food technologist at the Johnson Space Center. Crews for space shuttle missions pick their menus for their flight months in advance, and those meals are color-coded for each astronaut, then packed away on the shuttle.
While scientists in the NASA kitchen are constantly adding new foods to their menus, traditional Thanksgiving fare has to be cobbled together from food already on the shelves at the Johnson Space Center kitchen.
So, Perchonok and her staff started thinking about what was in their stock of food, and came up with a feast fit for space, something close to what most Americans will have when they sit down to dinner on the holiday.
What's on the menu for the seven astronauts? Smoked turkey, cornbread stuffing, green beans with mushrooms, candied yams, and for dessert, cranberries and apples.
Ferguson, in an interview from space, said the crew would gather in the Harmony module and share their meal and give thanks together.
Astronauts know they will miss holidays at home; it's part of the job.
Col. Eric Boe, Endeavour's pilot, was looking forward to the out of this Earth holiday experience.
"I am used to a big plate of food, and it is going to be interesting to celebrate in space, eating food that has been dehydrated, but celebrating with a group of people that we've worked with for over a year," Boe said.
When Don Pettit was a flight engineer on the International Space Station in 2003, he discovered Russian space spoons, and he brought his home with him. He says their spoons are better than U.S. spoons, so that is what he will be using for his Thanksgiving dinner.
"It's designed with a real long handle so you can dig inside of a food pouch without getting the food all over your fingers," Pettit said. "With these Russian spoons it is easier to chow down."
Astronauts Enjoy Holiday Meals in Space
The hatch between Endeavour and the International Space Station is closed, so Endeavour's crew of seven is celebrating on their side of the door, and the three ISS crew members, including Commander Mike Fincke and Flight Engineer Sandy Magnus are celebrating on their side of the door.
Magnus and Fincke will spend Christmas on the space station, but they both know treats are headed their way with the next Russian supply ship, and Magnus vows to make Saturday nights special.
"Saturday nights I am going to cook for the crew, as much as we can 'cook' on orbit," Magnus said. "I'm taking lots of different condiments with me and I am going to try to change the flavor of the food a little bit."
That's a challenge. While the astronauts say the NASA kitchens come up with some great selections, all the food has to be dried and irradiated, then re-hydrated. The crews all admit to yearning for a good steak, a baked potato, pizza and ice cream by the time their mission ends.
But all seven crew members, when asked what they were thankful for this holiday, talked about the troops far from home, their families and a very successful mission to repair and remodel the International Space Station.