Christmas in space: Astronauts decorate the halls of the International Space Station this holiday



Mark Vande Hei and Tom Marshburn will be spending this Christmas farther from home than any other being in the universe.

The two astronauts orbit the planet aboard the International Space Station. Marshburn says he and Vande Hei are probably planning to work until Christmas – but not without a video call home to celebrate with their families.

Ideally, the duo would take Christmas on vacation. But while the rest of us on Earth shopped for vacation and planned celebrations around the pandemic, astronauts worked on a cargo vehicle that’s not yet finished, Vande Hei says.

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NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei helps NASA astronaut Thomas Marshburn in the US Quest airlock before the start of a six hour and 32 minute spacewalk to replace a faulty antenna system on the Port-1 truss structure of the International Space Station. (NASA)

On his last space flight, Vande Hei and his American colleagues worked hard on Christmas Day. Russian astronauts, however, spent the holidays decorating their part of the space station and invited Americans to dinner, he says.

“We were very pleasantly surprised that they had a good lead for us,” said Vande Hei. “So it’s fun to be here with wonderful people.”

Other astronauts from Russia, Japan and Europe cohabit in the ISS. Beyond the holidays, Vande Hei says all astronauts share a sense of international camaraderie on the space station.

For Vande Hei, training with astronauts from all over the world and learning about different cultures and languages ​​is one of the best aspects of working on the space station.

“It’s a very eye-opening experience,” he says. “And the space station really supports all of humanity, so that gives us a really good sense of purpose.”

To celebrate the holidays in 2012, the astronauts had a small decorated Christmas tree on the space station. Marshburn remembers that he and the other astronauts at the time could tie the small one-and-a-half-foot tree to the ceiling or wall, but he would have to check the station’s database to see if it’s still on board. .

This year, Marshburn says they’re hoping to hang stockings – not the simple fabric clothes used here on Earth – and dress in Santa hats to indulge in the festive spirit.

And don’t worry kids, the astronauts are hoping Santa Claus finds a way through the airlock and deliver gifts to the cute boys and girls who work on the station.

Astronauts have a tough job: Vande Hei and Marshburn recently took refuge in a spaceship when satellite debris threatened to crash into the space station. And they dealt with an ammonia leak earlier this year.

It might sound stressful, but that’s exactly what astronauts train for.

“I think we’re so well trained that we get simulations where everything goes wrong,” says Vande Hei. “So when we have something wrong and it’s not the full complement of the error, it feels like it’s an easy simulation.”

When simulations go wrong in the field, the ground control team is not there to help. Therefore, having this support makes these real life situations easier than training and adventurous, he says.

For Marshburn, the risk of satellite debris seemed like an easy simulation. The astronauts calmly boarded the vehicle and closed the hatch, which they cannot do in ground simulations, he says.

“We had food and water with us and we just waited and had no issues. If we needed it, we knew we could just leave the space station,” he said, “but [I’m] Glad everything went well and we were able to stay on board. “

Marshburn first went to the space station in 2009 and is staying for the 67th expedition at the end of this rotation. He begins to run out of some of the living beyond our world over time, such as weightlessness, the view of Earth, and working with people all over the world.

“It’s an incredible international company. It’s something that I was very proud to be a part of, ”he says. “When I left the space station, I spoke to my family. They said they were okay with me coming back. And so I just started preparing to come back, if I could. . “

In this expedition, the bodies of the astronauts are resisting so far. To train in space, Vande Hei says they use a “resistive exercise machine that uses vacuum cylinders instead of weights,” a treadmill that requires you to strap on with rubber bands to run on. the wall and an exercise bike that is currently lacking a seat.

“Sounds pretty funny,” Vande Hei says, “if you’re used to having orientation and you see someone running with their head to the side.”

When Marshburn looks out of the space station window, he can see clouds, a sunset, and lots of blue. At this time of year, the space station orbit along what’s called the terminator, the line that separates day and night, so astronauts often feel like they’re in the middle. of a sunrise or a sunset.

“Especially when I first got here I looked outside, had no idea where I was,” says Marshburn. “It wasn’t like looking at pictures in an atlas.”

As humanity turns the page of 2021 and begins a new year, Vande Hei says he hopes humans approach the COVID-19 pandemic with a “strong sense of unity.”

Regarding the climate crisis, he hopes people realize the impact that Earth’s thin atmosphere – essential to our existence, where most humans spend their entire lives – is a finite resource that needs protection.

“I think the Earth is going to be there for a long time,” he said. “Whether we are or not is really up to us.”

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