Thanksgiving is a traditional American holiday, so Americans celebrate it wherever they are, even in space. On the day of the holiday, NASA's Barry "Butch" Wilmore and Terry Virts enjoyed a Thanksgiving feast with the rest of the crew members for Expedition 42. Like all meals served in space, their feast was a little different.
A Thanksgiving dinner served at the International Space Station will have the usual trappings: turkey, stuffing and dessert. The difference is that menu items in space are made up of freeze-dried, thermostabilized and irradiated food.
Specifically, ISS astronauts dined on irradiated smoked turkey, freeze-dried mushrooms and green beans, and thermostabilized candied yams. Wrapping up the meal was cherry-blueberry cobbler, also thermostabilized. Just to add a bit of festive mood to the day, crew members were also allowed some favorites.
"I'm from Tennessee, so I grew up drinking sweet tea -- so I've got a little sweet tea as well. We're going to have all of that up here and try to share in the spirit of the season," Wilmore said in his personal Thanksgiving video.
Thanksgiving at the ISS is nothing like the real deal back home because crew members are not with their families and the difference is further highlighted by space food. While astronauts don't have to worry about going hungry, the quality of their food is still a big concern.
Regularly, shipments are sent to the ISS to provide mission crews with provisions. Because conditions are different in space, food need to be packed in such a way that they last long without refrigeration yet contain enough nutrients to nourish people at the ISS.
NASA has managed to extend shelf life and retain nutrients in food through freeze-drying and thermostabilizing. The ISS is also being used as a lab to explore the potential of growing plants in space and, so far, the sweet potato is one of the crops likeliest to thrive in space.
A healthy source of carbohydrates and beta-carotene, sweet potatoes are able to adapt easily to artificial sunlight in controlled setups. Astronauts just have to make sure the main shoot tip is cared for properly because it's the most sensitive part of the plant, sending hormones to the rest of the sweet potato to stimulate root growth. It's important for roots to grow because the roots are what actually become sweet potatoes. Additionally, side shoots harvested early can be used in salads, adding to the sweet potato's usefulness.
Other Expedition 42 crew members include Roscosmos' Elena Serova, Alexander Samokutyaev and Anton Shkaplerov and the European Space Agency's Samantha Cristoforetti.