International Crew to Ring in Christmas 50 Years After First Moon Trip

Expedition 58 Crew Portrait
The official Expedition crew portrait with (from left) NASA astronaut Anne McClain, Roscosmos cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko and astronaut David Saint-Jacques of the Canadian Space Agency.

Three people from the U.S., Canada and Russia are orbiting Earth today getting ready to observe Christmas and experience New Year’s Eve from space aboard the International Space Station. Back on Earth, another three station crew members have returned to their home bases just 24 hours after completing a 197-day mission aboard the orbital lab.

The first time three humans spent Christmas in space was 50 years ago in 1968 during Apollo 8 and was also the first time a crew orbited the Moon. This Christmas astronauts Anne McClain of NASA and David Saint-Jacques of the Canadian Space Agency with cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko of Roscosmos will be soaring about 250 miles above the Earth’s surface in a much larger spacecraft. The Expedition 58 trio will share a traditional meal aboard the orbital lab, share gifts and call down to family during their off-duty day.

Kononenko is beginning his fourth mission on the station and will spend his second Christmas in space. McClain and Saint-Jacques are getting used to life in space for the first time and will return to Earth in June with Kononenko.

NASA astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor returned to Houston late Thursday just one day after landing in Kazakhstan wrapping up her six-and-a-half month stay aboard the orbital lab. She parachuted to Earth inside the Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft with her Expedition 57 crewmates Alexander Gerst of ESA (European Space Agency) and Sergey Prokopyev of Roscosmos.

Station Crew Gearing Up for 2017

The Expedition 50 crew enjoys an international Christmas dinner aboard the space station.
The Expedition 50 crew enjoys an international Christmas dinner aboard the space station.

The Expedition 50 crew aboard the International Space Station spent the week working on an array of science, maintenance and spacewalking preparation to close out 2016.

Kimbrough and Flight Engineers Peggy Whitson and Thomas Pesquet are getting ready for a pair of spacewalks on Jan. 6 and 13. The spacewalks, in conjunction with remote robotics work, will complete the replacement of old nickel-hydrogen batteries with new lithium-ion batteries on the station’s truss structure. The crew performed a loop scrub on their spacesuits, reviewed spacewalking procedures and did a fit verification with their suits on Friday.

The crew participated in a variety of science experiments during the week including the Fluid Shifts study, which investigates the causes for  lasting physical changes to astronauts’ eyes; performed the final harvest of the Outredgous Romaine Lettuce from the Veggie facility, which is further demonstrating the ability to grow fresh plants in space to supplement crew diets; and continued preparing the station’s Combustion Integrated Rack (CIR) for the upcoming Cool Flames Investigation, which will provide new insight into the phenomenon where some types of fuels initially burn very hot, then appear to go out — but they continue burning at a much lower temperature, with no visible flames (cool flames).

Going into New Year’s weekend, the crew will enjoy their typical off-duty time on Saturday and Sunday. They also will have Monday, Jan. 2 off.

Crew Heads into Christmas Weekend with Spacewalk Preps

Expedition 50 Flight Engineer Peggy Whitson of NASA
Aboard the International Space Station, Expedition 50 Flight Engineer Peggy Whitson of NASA sent holiday greetings and festive imagery from the Japanese Kibo laboratory module on Dec. 18.

The six-member Expedition 50 crew from France, Russia and the U.S. is heading into the holiday weekend with spacesuit checks and eye studies. The international crew will share a Christmas meal, enjoy a light-duty weekend and take Dec. 26 off.

Commander Shane Kimbrough scrubbed cooling loops and tested the water in a pair of U.S. spacesuits today. Kimbrough and Flight Engineers Peggy Whitson and Thomas Pesquet are getting ready for a pair of spacewalks on Jan. 6 and 13. The spacewalks, in conjunction with remote robotics work, will complete the replacement of old nickel-hydrogen batteries with new lithium-ion batteries on the station’s truss structure.

Whitson, who is spending her second Christmas in space, and Pesquet drew blood, urine and saliva samples for the Fluid Shifts study. That experiment investigates the upward flow of body fluids in space potentially causing lasting vision changes in astronauts.

In the Russian segment of the International Space Station, the three cosmonauts primarily worked on maintenance tasks and science work. Oleg Novitskiy worked on communications gear and experimented with space photography techniques. Sergey Ryzhikov worked on water transfers and a cardiac study. Andrey Borisenko worked on life support equipment before studying how a crew member learns to orient themselves in microgravity.

Station Decorated for Holidays as Crew Studies Life in Space

Italian Astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti
Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti is in the holiday spirit as the station is decorated with stockings for each crew member and a tree.

It’s beginning to look like Christmas on the International Space Station. The stockings are out, the tree is up and the station residents continue advanced space research to benefit life on Earth and in space.

A wide array of research work took place Tuesday with scientists on the ground, working in conjunction with the astronaut lab assistants, exploring different fields.

Behavioral testing was scheduled Tuesday for the Neuromapping study to assess changes in a crew member’s perception, motor control, memory and attention during a six-month space mission. Results will help physicians understand brain structure and function changes in space, how a crew member adapts to returning to Earth and develop effective countermeasures.

› Read more about NeuroMapping

Another study is observing why human skin ages at a quicker rate in space than on Earth. The Skin B experiment will provide scientists a model to study the aging of other human organs and help future crew members prepare for long-term missions beyond low-Earth orbit.

› Read more about Skin-B