Merry Christmas From Space 2016

All six members of the Expedition 50 crew aboard the International Space Station celebrated the holidays together with a festive meal on Christmas Day, Dec. 25, 2016  Image Credit: NASA
All six members of the Expedition 50 crew aboard the International Space Station celebrated the holidays together with a festive meal on Christmas Day, Dec. 25, 2016. Image Credit: NASA

As we celebrate the Christmas tidings of 2016 here on Earth, a lucky multinational crew of astronauts and cosmonauts celebrate the festive season floating in Zero-G while living and working together in space aboard the Earth orbiting International Space Station (ISS) complex – peacefully cooperating to benefit all humanity.

Today, Dec. 25, 2016, the six person Expedition 50 crew of five men and one woman marked the joyous holiday of Christ’s birth by gathering for a festive meal in space – as billions of Earthlings celebrated this Christmas season of giving, remembrance and peace to all here on our home planet.

This year is an especially noteworthy Space Christmas because it counts as Expedition 50. This is the 50th crew to reside on board since the space station began operating with permanent occupancy by rotating crews all the way back to 1998.

The Expedition 50 crew currently comprises of people from three nations supporting the ISS – namely the US, Russia and France; Commander Shane Kimbrough from NASA and flight engineers Andrey Borisenko (Roscosmos), Sergey Ryzhikov (Roscosmos), Thomas Pesquet (ESA), Peggy Whitson (NASA), and Oleg Novitskiy (Roscosmos).

Here a short video of holiday greetings from a trio of crew members explaining what Christmas in Space means to them:

Video Caption: Space Station Crew Celebrates the Holidays Aboard the Orbital Lab. Aboard the International Space Station, Expedition 50 Commander Shane Kimbrough and Peggy Whitson of NASA and Thomas Pesquet of the European Space Agency discussed their thoughts about being in space during the holidays and how they plan to celebrate Christmas and New Year’s in a downlink. Credit: NASA

“Hello from the Expedition 50 Crew! We’d like to share what Christmas means to us,” said Expedition 50 Commander Shane Kimbrough.

“For me it’s a lot about family,” said Expedition 50 Commander Shane Kimbrough. “We always travel to meet up with our family which is dispersed across the country. And we go home to Georgia and Florida … quite abit to meet up. Always a great time to get together and share with each other.”

“Although its typically thought of a season to get things, we in our family think about the giving aspect. Giving of our many talents and resources. Especially to those less fortunate.”

Kimbrough arrived on the complex in October, followed a month later by Whitson and Pesquet in November.

They were all launched aboard Russian Soyuz capsules from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Aboard the International Space Station, Expedition 50 Flight Engineer Peggy Whitson of NASA sent holiday greetings and festive imagery from the cupola on Dec. 18, 2016. Credit: NASA.
Aboard the International Space Station, Expedition 50 Flight Engineer Peggy Whitson of NASA sent holiday greetings and festive imagery from the cupola on Dec. 18, 2016. Credit: NASA.

And Peggy Whitson especially has a lot to celebrate in space!

Because not only is Whitson currently enjoying her third long-duration flight aboard the station – as an Expedition 50 flight engineer. Soon she will become the first woman to command the station twice ! That momentous event happens when she assumes the role of Space Station Commander early in 2017 during the start of Expedition 51.

“In addition to family, there is another very important aspect to being on the ISS,” said Whitson.

“That is seeing the planet as a whole. It actually reinforces I think, that fact that we should live as one people and strive for peace.”

“I second the comments already made. I grew up in a family of 25 cousins,” said ESA’s Thomas Pesquet. “The only time we could catch up was around Christmas time…. So I always looked forward to that, although this year I can’t be with them of course … and will think of them.”

“I am making the most of this opportunity to look at the Earth. Reflect about what Christmas means to us as individuals and to the world in general. And we will have a good time on board the ISS and share a Christmas meal together.”

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, 2016. Credit: 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, 2016. Credit: NASA

The crew is enjoying a light weekend of work and a day off tomorrow, Dec. 26.

After that they begin preparing for a pair of spacewalks in the new year by Kimbrough and Whitson – scheduled for Jan. 6 and 13. The crew is checking the spacesuits by testing the water among other activities.

The goal of the excursions is to “complete the replacement of old nickel-hydrogen batteries with new lithium-ion batteries on the station’s truss structure,” says NASA.

Research work also continues.

“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.”

NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson floats through the Unity module aboard the International Space Station. On her third long-duration flight aboard the station, Whitson will become the first woman to command the station twice when she assumes the role during Expedition 51. Credit: NASA

Among other activities, the crew is also unloading 4.5 tons of internal and external cargo, gear and fresh food – including six lithium-ion batteries – from Japan’s sixth H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV-6), which recently arrived at the ISS on Dec 13.

The next regular US cargo delivery is likely to be in March 2017, when an unmanned Orbital ATK Cygnus cargo freighter is slated to launch on a ULA Atlas V from Cape Canaveral. A Cygnus was also launched on a ULA Atlas V in March 2016.

A Cygnus cargo spacecraft named the SS Rick Husband is being prepared inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center for upcoming Orbital ATK CRS-6/OA-6 mission to deliver hardware and supplies to the International Space Station. Cygnus is scheduled to lift off atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on March 22, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

SpaceX also hopes to resume Dragon cargo launches sometime in the new year after they resolve the issues that led to the destruction of a SpaceX Falcon 9 on Sept. 1 during fueling operations at pad 40 on the Cape.

Meanwhile Roscosmos continues to investigate the causes of the failed launch of the unmanned Russian Progress 65 resupply ship on Dec. 1 due to a 3rd stage anomaly.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Our Beautiful Earth – Happy New Year Photos and Greetings from the ISS Crew

Spectacular View of the Alps From Space!
Expedition 42 Flight Engineer Samantha Cristoforetti of the European Space Agency (ESA) took this photograph of the Alps from the International Space Station. She wrote, “I’m biased, but aren’t the Alps from space spectacular? What a foggy day on the Po plane, though! #Italy” Credit: NASA/ESA/Samantha Cristoforetti
Updated with more images[/caption]

As we say goodbye to 2014 and ring in New Year 2015, the Expedition 42 crew living and working aboard the International Space Station enjoys the new gallery of images they’ve sent back of “Our Beautiful Earth.”

The current six person crew includes astronauts and cosmonauts from three nations – America, Russia, and Italy – and the four men and two women are celebrating New Year’s 2015 aboard the massive orbiting lab complex.

Happy New Year! Celebrating from space with @AstroTerry.  Credit: NASA/Terry Virts
Happy New Year! Celebrating from space with @AstroTerry. Credit: NASA/Terry Virts

They comprise Expedition 42 Commander Barry “Butch” Wilmore and Terry Virts from NASA, Samantha Cristoforetti from the European Space Agency (ESA), and cosmonauts Aleksandr Samokutyayev, Yelena Serova, and Anton Shkaplerov from Russia.

Beauty everywhere! Flying from the Mediterranean to the Caspian Sea, this appeared through the clouds.#HelloEarth.  Credit: NASA/ESA/Samantha Cristoforetti
Beauty everywhere! Flying from the Mediterranean to the Caspian Sea, this appeared through the clouds.#HelloEarth. Credit: NASA/ESA/Samantha Cristoforetti

The ISS has been continuously occupied by humans for 15 years. And they are joined by Robonaut 2 who recently got legs.

This area saw some serious action about 350 million years ago! Gweni-Fada meteorite crater in #Chad. Credit: NASA/ESA/Samantha Cristoforetti
This area saw some serious action about 350 million years ago! Gweni-Fada meteorite crater in #Chad. Credit: NASA/ESA/Samantha Cristoforetti

Terry Virts and Samantha Cristoforetti have been especially prolific in picture taking and posting to social media for us all to enjoy the view while speeding merrily along at 17,500 mph from an altitude of about 250 miles (400 kilometers) above Earth.

Here’s a special New Year video greeting from Wilmore and Virts:

Video Caption: Happy New Year from the International Space Station from NASA astronauts Barry “Butch” Wilmore and Terry Virts. Credit: NASA

“Happy New Year from the International Space Station!” said Wilmore.

“We figure that we will be over midnight somewhere on the Earth on New Year’s for 16 times throughout this day. So we plan to celebrate New Year’s 16 times with our comrades and our people down on Earth.”

No sunsets until Jan 4th- we are in a "high beta" orbit now, so this is as dark as it gets.  Credit: NASA/Terry Virts
No sunsets until Jan 4th- we are in a “high beta” orbit now, so this is as dark as it gets. Credit: NASA/Terry Virts

“We wish everybody a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2015 as we get the awesome privilege of celebrating New Year’s here on the space station with our six station crewmates,” added Virts!

“We’ll enjoy our 16 New Year’s celebrations here.”

Part of the #Aral sea peaking through the clouds as we flew into #Kazakhstan! #HelloEarth.  Credit: NASA/ESA/Samantha Cristoforetti
Part of the #Aral sea peaking through the clouds as we flew into #Kazakhstan! #HelloEarth. Credit: NASA/ESA/Samantha Cristoforetti

They plan to celebrate the dawn of 2015 with fruit juice toasts, NASA reports.

The year 2015 starts officially for the station crew at midnight by the Universal Time Clock (UTC), also known as Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), in London, or at 7 p.m. EST Dec. 31.

If I couldn't be in space right now I'd want to be here- #Hawaii.  Credit: NASA/Terry Virts
If I couldn’t be in space right now I’d want to be here- #Hawaii. Credit: NASA/Terry Virts

New Year’s Day 2015 is a day off for the crew.

And I’m certain they’ll be gazing out the windows capturing more views of “Our Beautiful Earth!”

42 è la risposta! // 42 is the answer! #Expedition42 Guide to the galaxy. Credit: @NASA_Astronauts #AstroButch
42 è la risposta! // 42 is the answer! #Expedition42 Guide to the galaxy. Credit: @NASA_Astronauts #AstroButch

And don’t forget to catch up on the Christmas holiday imagery and festivities from the station crews in my recent stories – here and here.

#NewYork NewYork! Can almost see the Statue of Liberty. Which is, by the way, #UNESCO#WorldHeritage! Credit: NASA/ESA/Samantha Cristoforetti
#NewYork NewYork! Can almost see the Statue of Liberty. Which is, by the way, #UNESCO#WorldHeritage! Credit: NASA/ESA/Samantha Cristoforetti

Be sure to remember that you can always try and catch of glimpse of the ISS flying overhead by checking NASA’s Spot the Station website with a complete list of locations.

It’s easy to plug in and determine visibilities in your area worldwide. And try to shoot a time-lapse view like mine below.

ISS streaks over Princeton, NJ - time lapse image.  Credit: Ken Kremer
ISS streaks over Princeton, NJ – time lapse image. Credit: Ken Kremer

Meanwhile the crew continues science operations and preparations for next week’s arrival of the next unmanned space station resupply ship on the SpaceX CRS-5 mission.

CRS-5 is slated to blast off atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on Jan. 6 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

 SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is set to soar to ISS after completing  successful static fire test on Dec. 19 ahead of planned CRS-5 mission for NASA in early January 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is set to soar to the ISS after completing a successful static fire test on Dec. 19 ahead of the planned CRS-5 mission for NASA in early January 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

ISS astronauts Barry “Butch” Wilmore, NASA, Samantha Cristoforetti, ESA and Terry Virts, NASA send Christmas 2014 greetings from the space station to the people of Earth.  Credit: NASA/ESA
ISS astronauts Barry “Butch” Wilmore, NASA, Samantha Cristoforetti, ESA, and Terry Virts, NASA, send Christmas 2014 greetings from the space station to the people of Earth. Credit: NASA/ESA
ISS Expedition 42. Credit: NASA/ESA/Roscosmos
ISS Expedition 42. Credit: NASA/ESA/Roscosmos

Station Astronauts Send Christmas Greetings from the International Space Station

ISS astronauts Barry “Butch” Wilmore, NASA, Samantha Cristoforetti, ESA and Terry Virts, NASA send Christmas 2014 greetings from the space station to the people of Earth. Credit: NASA/ESA
Story/pics expanded. Send holiday tweet to crew below![/caption]

There is a long tradition of Christmas greetings from spacefarers soaring around the High Frontier and this year is no exception!

The Expedition 42 crew currently serving aboard the International Space Station has decorated the station for the Christmas 2014 holiday season and send their greetings to all the people of Earth from about 240 miles (400 km) above!

“Merry Christmas from the International Space Station!” said astronauts Barry Wilmore and Terry Virts of NASA and Samantha Cristoforetti of ESA, who posed for the group shot above.

Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti is in the holiday spirit as the station is decorated with stockings for each crew member and a tree.  Credit: NASA/ESA
Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti is in the holiday spirit as the station is decorated with stockings for each crew member and a tree. Credit: NASA/ESA

“It’s beginning to look like Christmas on the International Space Station,” said NASA in holiday blog update.

“The stockings are out, the tree is up and the station residents continue advanced space research to benefit life on Earth and in space.”

And the six person crew including a trio of Russian cosmonauts, Aleksandr Samokutyayev, Yelena Serova, and Anton Shkaplerov who celebrate Russian Orthodox Christmas, are certainly hoping for and encouraging a visit from Santa. Terry Virts even tweeted a picture of the special space style milk and cookies awaiting Santa and his Reindeer for the imminent arrival!

“No chimney up here- so I left powdered milk and freeze dried cookies in the airlock. Fingers crossed,” tweeted Virts.

No chimney up here- so I left powdered milk and freeze dried cookies in the airlock. Fingers crossed.  Credit: NASA/Terry Virts
No chimney up here- so I left powdered milk and freeze dried cookies in the airlock. Fingers crossed. Credit: NASA/Terry Virts

And here’s a special Christmas video greeting from Wilmore and Virts:

Video Caption: Aboard the International Space Station, Expedition 42 Commander Barry Wilmore and Flight Engineer Terry Virts of NASA offered their thoughts and best wishes to the world for the Christmas holiday during downlink messages from the orbital complex on Dec. 17. Wilmore has been aboard the research lab since late September and will remain in orbit until mid-March 2015. Virts arrived at the station in late November and will stay until mid-May 2015. Credit: NASA

“We wish you all a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Christmas for us is a time of worship. It’s a time that we think back to the birth of what we consider our Lord. And we do that in our homes and we plan to do the same thing up here and take just a little bit of time just to reflect on those topics and, also, just as the Wise Men gave gifts, we have a couple of gifts,” Wilmore says in the video.

“It’s such an honor and so much fun to be able to celebrate Christmas up here. This is definitely a Christmas that we’ll remember, getting a chance to see the beautiful Earth,” added Virts. “Have fun with your family. Merry Christmas!”

And you can send a holiday tweet to the crew – here:
holiday-tweet-banner-02

Meanwhile the crew is still hard at work doing science and preparing for the next space station resupply mission launch by SpaceX from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is now set to blastoff on Jan. 6, 2015 carrying the Dragon cargo freighter on the CRS-5 mission bound for the ISS.

The launch was postponed from Dec. 19 when a static fire test of the first stage engines on Dec. 17 shut down prematurely.

 SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is set to soar to ISS after completing  successful static fire test on Dec. 19 ahead of planned CRS-5 mission for NASA in early January 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is set to soar to ISS after completing successful static fire test on Dec. 19 ahead of planned CRS-5 mission for NASA in early January 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

A second static fire test of the SpaceX Falcon 9 went the full duration and cleared the path for the Jan. 6 liftoff attempt.

Among the science studies ongoing according to NASA are:

“Behavioral testing 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.”

“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.”

Merry Christmas to All!

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer