When do the astronauts pop open the champagne?Posted Thursday, Dec. 31, 2009, at 11:49 AM ET
Last week a Russian spacecraft ferried three astronauts to the International Space Station to join the two who had been manning it since October. The crew took Christmas Day off to share meals together. What about celebrating New Year's—how do you pick the right moment when you're hurtling through time zones at 17,500 miles per hour?
Just wait until midnight, Greenwich Mean Time. By convention, the astronauts set their clocks to GMT, also known as Coordinated Universal Time. . .
While the astronauts acknowledge New Year's Day, they won't have much of a celebration. They'll all stop working in the evening to gather around a communal table, with their feet in toeholds and the plates velcroed to the table, and share a meal of foods from their three countries of origin—the United States, Russia, and Japan. . . They might also take some time to video conference with their families, but most of the day will be like any other.
Space station holidays are established at the beginning of each mission and depend on the nationalities of the crew members. The current crew will recognize New Year's Day, Russian Orthodox Christmas, and Russian Defender of the Fatherland Day. The next two missions—set to begin in March and May 2010—will celebrate Showa Day (honoring the late Japanese Emperor Hirohito), Russian Victory Day, U.S. Independence Day, and Labor Day. . .
A space station New Year's Eve party might be kind of lame, anyway. There's no alcohol allowed on board, and sparkling cider isn't an option, either. . . There's no easy way for the astronauts to view the Times Square festivities, either. Mission Control occasionally uses its data stream to relay important television programming, such as a presidential announcement or the Army-Navy football game, but Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve has never been viewed in space.
The eats wouldn't be too bad, though. In late 2008, the space shuttle Endeavor brought a second refrigerator to the station—the original refrigerator is used only for science experiments—giving the astronauts some time to consume fresh foods. An unmanned Russian spacecraft brings fresh produce and other delicacies every two or three months. The Christmas menu included turkey, cornbread dressing, yams, and green beans.
There is cause to celebrate the long record of peaceful international cooperation in space. Take a minute today, the first of the new decade, to honor those men and women from many different countries who risked their lives to push the boundaries of the human experience beyond earth. It is a good thing for every soul on earth.