Astronauts on the space station get holiday feast, although the adjectives are less "juicy" and more "irradiated." The menu is irradiated smoked turkey, thermostabilized candied yams, freeze-dried green beans, mushrooms, and cornbread dressing, and a thermostabilized cherry-blueberry cobbler for dessert.

Top image: A freeze-dried, irradiated, and thermostabilized thanksgiving dinner. Credit: NASA/Butch Wilmore

The very first space-Thanksgiving was celebrated in 1973 by the third crew on Skylab, astronauts Gerald Carr, William Pogue and Edward Gibson. It's been celebrated frequently since then in an assortment of spacecraft, and is a regular feature of the November menu on the International Space Station.


Expedition 42 at Thanksgiving dinner hosted by NASA astronauts Terry Virts and Butch Wilmore. Image credit: ESA/NASA

The absolute best part of Thanksgiving on the space station is the view. Image credit: NASA/Butch Wilmore


While the best part of most meals on the space station is the view, not the food, astronauts have a long tradition of trying to make special meals for the holidays. They get help with Thanksgiving, with NASA sending up thematically-appropriate components and even including some regional treats like a sweet tea for southern astronaut Butch Wilmore. The basics of the menu have been the same for years, with Peggy Whitson describing the rehydrated beans and mushrooms as "better than it might sound" back in 2002.

The Unity node acts as dining room on the International Space Station. Image credit: NASA/Butch Wilmore

Figuring out ways to make space-food tasty can be a significant challenge. Tortillas have proved to be an adequate substitute for bread, reducing the need to smuggle corned-beef sandwiches into orbit, but freeze-drying everything does take the flavour out. To try to compensate, NASA develops special recipes with a heightened flavour-kick to make sure astronauts still have something reasonably tasty even after food has been processed to make it as lightweight and long-lasting as possible. The Thanksgiving cornbread dressing is one of these special recipes. NASA offers its cornbread dressing recipe to everyone if you want a bit of space in your Thanksgiving, but without the stunning space station view to compensate, your tastebuds may not appreciate your geeky efforts.

Cristoforetti at the food-rehydration station. Image credit: NASA/Sam Cristoforetti


Despite experiments with growing lettuce on the space station, the astronauts will not be harvesting their gardens for fresh vegetables. This might not always be true — sweet potatoes are an attractive target for future space-gardening. The roots are nutritionally useful as a dense carbohydrate energy source and a reliable beta-carotene source while the side shoots are also edible for salads. Just as importantly, they should do well in a confined, controlled environment as they grow nicely with artificial sunlight, are adaptable to vine-training architectures.

Cosmonauts Vladimir N. Dezhurov and Mikhail Tyurinin cutting (open) the turkey for Thanksgiving 2001 when dinner was in the Zvezda Service Module. Image credit: NASA


Alas, Thanksgiving dinner on the International Space Station will not include piping hot espresso this year, as it'll take a bit more time to set up the new espresso machine brought up with ESA astronaut Sam Cristoforetti. Once up and running, the machine will be able to rehydrate and infuse more than just coffee, possibly making gravy or stews a future contribution to space-Thanksgiving.

Astronaut Michael Hopkins shows off his 2013 Thanksgiving dinner. Image credit: NASA


Of course, where would Thanksgiving be without a toast? The space station went through theirs early, with NASA astronaut Butch Wilmore recording this message home reflecting on the holiday, describing their meal, and being deeply grateful for the opportunity to play in microgravity:

Read a special interview with Wilmore about Thanksgiving on Popular Science.