This year, there’ll be empty spaces at the table for Thanksgiving on space station

NASA astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor, at right, takes a group selfie with Russia’s Sergey Prokopyev and Germany’s Alexander Gerst on the International Space Station. (NASA Photo)

Thanksgiving is traditionally a time for big gatherings around the dinner table, but this year’s feast on the International Space Station will be served to only three people. And only two of them have the day off.

That’s because two spacefliers who were supposed to be in orbit at this time of year missed out on their ride: NASA’s Nick Hague and Russia’s Alexey Ovchinin had to return to Earth just minutes after their launch on Oct. 11 due to a Soyuz rocket malfunction. The next crew won’t arrive until next month.

As a result, NASA astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor is the only one on the station who has traditionally observed American Thanksgiving. German astronaut Alexander Gerst is getting the day off as well, even though the closest thing to Thanksgiving in Germany, a harvest festival known as Erntedankfest, is usually celebrated in September or October. And for the third crew member, Russia’s Sergey Prokopyev, Thursday is just another workday.

In a space-to-ground interview conducted three weeks ago, Auñón-Chancellor said she misses Hague and Ovchinin. “Sure, we would love to see them up here, but more important, they’re safe on the ground,” she said.

Are you thawing out your turkey? The space station crew is preparing for Thanksgiving, too! Tomorrow, an American, European and Russian will celebrate together in space with their own special meal. Happy Thanksgiving from the International Space Station!

— Intl. Space Station (@Space_Station) November 21, 2018

There could be an upside to the smaller crowd: bigger servings of the space station’s traditional Thanksgiving menu items, with irradiated smoked turkey leading the list. Shelf-storable fixings have been on the space station for weeks, but they’ll be supplemented by fresh fruit, ice cream and other goodies that came up to the space station over the weekend in two robotic cargo deliveries, courtesy of Russia as well as NASA and Northrop Grumman.

“We’ve got everything from turkey to candied yams to stuffing to special spicy pound cakes,” Auñón-Chancellor said in a video clip recorded with Gerst. “We’re very excited.”

Prokopyev will join Auñón-Chancellor and Gerst for the feast after his work shift ends. And there’s another upside to Thanksgiving in space: No dinner plates to wash. Instead, there’ll be extra time to check in with family and friends more than 200 miles below.

“Thanksgiving is a time to spend with those whom you love, whomever that might be,” Auñón-Chancellor told viewers. “And so we’ll be enjoying this meal together, but then also calling our loved ones back on planet Earth.”

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