Thanksgiving In Space
NASA astronauts Michael Hopkins (left) and Rick Mastracchio spent Thanksgiving in space. NASA

Thanksgiving is usually a time spent with family, eating way too much food and maybe watching some football. But sometimes work interferes with the holiday, and that was the case for NASA astronaut Rick Mastracchio, who spent the 2013 holiday season aboard the International Space Station.

Mastracchio's experience in space includes three space shuttle missions and expedition 38/expedition 39 aboard the space station. The astronaut launched to the ISS on Nov. 7, 2013, and returned to Earth on May 13, 2014.

"There’s really not much you can do to prepare. Of course, you’re going to be away for a long time and the family kind of accepts that, but we have pretty good connectivity up there in the space station," Mastracchio said in an interview with International Business Times. "We have email that we can send at any time. We have a telephone, and we can call home almost any time we want if the communication coverage is there, which it usually is. We also have video conferences with the family at least once a week. I would call home almost every day and have video conferences once a week, so it wasn’t too bad."

In addition to calling his family, Mastracchio and his crewmates received care packages whenever a cargo ship arrived at the space station. "We do get care packages. Our spouses can pack a small care package for us, and it can include food, a t-shirt or anything that they choose to send. Food is the most appreciated thing, because up there you have limited food, and it’s pretty good, but it gets old after a while, you just don’t have the variety you do down here," Mastracchio said.

So, how does one spend Thanksgiving in space? "Whenever there’s a holiday on the U.S. side, or if it was a crew member’s birthday or anything like that or on the weekends, we’d get together. All six of us, including the three Russians, two Americans and Koichi, my Japanese crew mate, we’d get together once or twice a week and have dinner together and also on special occasions such as Christmas or Russian holidays," said Mastracchio.

Thanksgiving Dinner In Space
A look at some of the items on the Thanksgiving menu aboard the International Space Station. NASA

Unfortunately, care packages for the astronauts did not arrive until January; the resupply mission was delayed due to cold weather and later a faulty cooling system which required an emergency spacewalk to repair. "For Thanksgiving and Christmas, we did not get anything special other than the standard menu NASA provides and the care packages we happened to scrounge together. We didn’t get our care package until right after Christmas. Last year we were supposed to get a cargo vehicle, but sometime before Christmas, we had a problem and we had to go out to do a series of spacewalks right before Christmas," Mastracchio said.

NASA has a team of food scientists who prepare the ISS menus for astronauts. For Thanksgiving, turkey was served along with green bean casserole, cornbread dressing, potatoes, asparagus, baked beans and dessert.

On Earth, Mastracchio celebrated a traditional Thanksgiving, "Growing up, and even now with my wife and kids, we always had Thanksgiving at my parents’ house with a large family, all of my brothers and sisters, of course, and the grandparents, aunts and uncles. So, just a lot like everybody else, we get together with family on Thanksgiving and Christmas," Mastracchio said.

"We’re down here in Houston, so we don’t have as many family members as when I was growing up, because they’re all up in the Northeast, but we still get together with as many folks as we can," Mastracchio said of returning to Earth and spending the holidays with family. "After we land, you spend around a month and a half or so doing a series of debriefings with the folks at the Johnson Space Center and in other places. You do a lot of medical testing, a lot of finishing up with different experiments. A lot of times, these experiments that we sign up for, they measure things before we launch, they measure different things while in orbit and then when we land. So, things like blood or ultrasounds."

The Thanksgiving in space tradition will continue in 2014 as NASA astronauts Barry "Butch" Wilmore, expedition 42 commander, and Terry Virts will have a feast with European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti and cosmonauts Alexander Samokutyaev and Elena Serova.