Dec 24, 2014 09:37 PM EST
Christmas is a time for a bit of relaxation, family gatherings, and multiple rounds of board games. And let's not forget the presents. But when astronauts are orbiting the Earth at 172,000mph, down-time may bit a bit harder to come by.
The Holiday season in a vacuum is an odd conundrum to navigate. What do astronauts eat on December 25th? Do they actually open presents Christmas Day? Is a "Christmas Tree" and decorating it still a feasible practice?
This soon-to-be Christmas, six astronauts from all corners of the globe will find themselves 200miles outside Earth's atmosphere on the international Space Station (ISS), celebrating the holiday in creative fashion.
"Christmas is going to be good," said Terry Virts, a US astronaut, in an interview with WBAL Radio in Baltimore. "Butch and I will do a little Christmas Eve service up here. Butch got stockings for us all and I have some presents. We're going to have a little gift exchange and eat some irradiated turkey and dehydrated mash potato and cornbread dressing. It should be a good Christmas Day.
And there will be no coal in these space-savvy stockings.
All six astronauts currently residing in the ISS plan on making the holiday as terrestrially reminiscent as possible despite the zero-gravity barrier; they've even managed to "pitch" a small, artificial tree, decorating it with a variety of seasonal ornaments―and, of course, tinsel. But the looming question that seems to be shared by every astronaut is, "Well, what are we going to eat?"
"Astronaut food," as it's now playfully called, is just as much a science as it is a culinary exercise. The sustenance, in question, has to remain nutritionally intact, despite the harsh pressures and solar exposures of space, yet still come-off as palatable. And with one special request from Italy's first ever woman in space, Samantha Cristoforetti, this lead Argotec, a small aerospace engineering firm, on a culinary odyssey.
"Take an apple, for example," said Stefano Polato, Argotec's 33-year-old chef. "You can lower the temperature for sterilization and avoiding killing off the nutrients if you pick one that has the right acidity level. A pH of 3.5 is ideal. You get fewer bacteria and longer conservation. It tastes good too."
So, the cornerstone to any good "space meal" seems to be the durability of the ingredients themselves, not so much the cooking-prep.
"Digestion is more difficult in space because there is no gravity," said Polato, often working hand-in-hand with the firm's nutritionists. "So anything that would be heavy on our stomachs on Earth will be very, very heavy in space."
But, given the excellent products produce by Argotec, I'm sure all six astronauts will have a little taste of home this holiday season when they're sitting around their small, well-decorated Christmas tree, opening presents, mid-air.
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