Thanksgiving dinner on the ISS will make you thankful you’re on Earth

I’ve just watched NASA’s latest video from the ISS. As America prepares for its last Thanksgiving before President Donald Trump takes the White House, some citizens may be wondering what exactly they should be thankful for. I humbly submit that, having seen the video below, they should be extremely thankful not to be on board the International Space Station come dinnertime.

First of all, as astronaut Shane Kimbrough explains, it’s a work day for them, so no time off. “We’re going to work all day and then have an evening big dinner, full of most of the things you’re going to have at your table,” Kimbrough explains, before revealing several sealed parcels, only identifiable by the sticker attached to each package. It’s all vacuum-packed, and isn’t too far removed from the kind of sterlised containers that get passed from ward to ward in hospital.

Still, here’s what each package purports to contain. Turkey comes in a pouch – ”it’ll taste really good, just like you’re having at home,” Kimbrough says, with a voice that suggests more hope than genuine expectation. Identical-looking parcels follow, containing candied yams; cherry and blueberry cobbler; and sweet tea. Cornbread dressing, mashed potatoes, green beans and mushrooms all come dehydrated so will need a little water to make them (more) fit for human consumption.

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If that all sounds a bit depressing, modern astronauts can take some comfort in one thing: this is a hell of a lot better than how it was in the early days of space exploration. The first astronauts didn’t have the ability to heat their food so were left with – in NASA’s own appetising words – “bite-sized cubes, freeze-dried powders and semiliquids stuffed in aluminium tubes”.

Things had gotten a little better by the time of the Gemini missions. Freeze-dried foods and – brace yourself – gelatin-coated cubes meant the likes of chicken, shrimp and vegetables were on the menu. The strict diet did mean that there was occasional insubordination. A congressional hearing ended up disciplining the crew of Gemini III for sneaking a corned beef sandwich on board (tiny fragments of food could cause severe problems for the onboard machinery – it’s not just sheer bloodymindedness).

While we’re now at a point where lettuce can be grown in space, we’re still a good few steps away from anything approaching a tasty meal in space. So while the ISS’s Thanksgiving fare may seem appealing to home-cooking-deprived astronauts, there’s really no better place to be than Earth this Thanksgiving.

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