Santa came early to the astronauts on board the International Space Station in the form of the Japanese cargo ship Kuonotori or “White Stork.” When the supply ship docked with the ISS recently, it brought five tons of food, water, and other supplies, as well as Christmas presents for the two Americans, three Russians, and the single Frenchman currently on board the orbiting Space laboratory.

As with Thanksgiving, the crew of the ISS will take time off to celebrate Christmas dinner together. However, since the Russian Orthodox Church celebrates Christmas in January, the crew will likely celebrate the holiday twice.

Dinner will likely consist of traditional roast turkey, cornbread dressing, potatoes, cranberry sauce, and green beans. The food will be cooked in bags in the space station’s oven, a concession to the realities of microgravity. Some of the astronauts will be able to supplement their Christmas meals with candy or cookies delivered from their families on Earth.

The space station is being decorated with stockings and a small Christmas tree that is kept in storage for the balance of the year. In times past, the astronauts have been seen clowning about wearing Santa hats and reindeer antlers.

Christmas has been celebrated in space on a continuous basis ever since the ISS became permanently occupied back at the beginning of the 21st Century. Most of the partners in the space station project come from countries that celebrate Christmas.

Christmas has been part of the American space program since its early days. During the Apollo 8 mission in 1968, the astronauts conducted a live broadcast of the Earth rising over the lunar surface when they read from the Book of Genesis.

The gesture was said to have redeemed a year that had featured a great deal of tragedy and death and, to date, represented the farthest place from Earth that humans have celebrated Christmas. However, the broadcast was not universally greeted with approval. Atheist activist Madalyn Murray O’Hair filed suit against NASA on the basis of separation of church and state grounds, a suit that was eventually thrown out by the United States Supreme Court.

Since then the space agency has discouraged overt expressions of religious faith by astronauts on missions.

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