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Christmas In Orbit: How Astronauts Celebrate Christmas In The Space

From the carols sung above the lunar surface to the 3D-printed ornaments adorning the ISS, these 55 years of celestial Christmas celebrations paint a remarkable picture of human ingenuity, adaptability, and the enduring power of holiday traditions.

Astronauts celebrating Christmas in space
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Christmas on Earth conjures images of crackling fireplaces, snow-dusted landscapes, and the comforting aroma of gingerbread. But for NASA's astronauts, the holiday takes on a whole new dimension, celebrated at 17,500 miles per hour amidst the awe-inspiring vastness of space. From the pioneering days of Apollo to the high-tech haven of the International Space Station, let's embark on a cosmic journey through 55 years of celestial Christmases, unwrapping the ingenuity and heartwarming traditions that have adorned the holiday in orbit.

1968: Carols from the Lunar Seas

The year 1968 witnessed the first ever spaceborne Christmas. Apollo 8's Borman, Lovell, and Anders, orbiting the Moon on  Christmas Eve, became humanity's celestial carolers. Their live broadcast, echoing across the globe with passages from the Book of Genesis, remains a poignant testament to the spirit of the season reaching even the lunar frontier.

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Apollo 8 astronauts, from left, James Lovell, command module pilot; William Anders, lunar module pilot; and Frank Borman, commander; stand in front of mission simulator prior to training in exercise for their scheduled six-day lunar orbital mission at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Dec. 18, 1968. Credits: AP

1973: Skylab's DIY Christmas

Five years later, Skylab 4 crewmates proved resourcefulness is the ultimate Christmas ornament. Leftover food containers transformed into a makeshift tree, adorned with ornaments crafted from packaging – a testament to spacefaring ingenuity and the enduring spirit of Yuletide cheer.

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Skylab 4 astronauts Gerald P. Carr, left, Edward G. Gibson, and William R. Pogue trim their homemade Christmas tree in December 1973 Credits: NASA

1988: A Christmas Carol from Mir

As the Cold War thawed, the spirit of Christmas reached new heights. Soviet cosmonaut Titov and his Afghan counterpart Musa Manarov, aboard the Mir space station, held a joint Christmas Eve celebration, showcasing the unifying power of the holiday amidst earthly divisions.

2000: Connecting Across the Cosmos

With the dawn of the International Space Station, Christmas celebrations blossomed into elaborate affairs. Expedition 1's crew reveled in a virtual Christmas Eve party with loved ones back on Earth, bridging the celestial gap with laughter, stories, and carols sung against the backdrop of twinkling stars.

2010: 3D-Printed Delights

Technology became Santa's helper in orbit. Astronauts on the ISS enjoyed holiday movies on laptops, video-chatted with families, and even utilized 3D printers to create personalized ornaments, adding a touch of earthly joy to their celestial home.

2020: A Socially Distanced Christmas

Even a global pandemic couldn't dampen the spirits of the ISS crew. Celebrating Christmas amidst strict isolation protocols, they savored specially prepared spacefaring meals, exchanged gifts, and held a virtual singalong with carolers on Earth, proving that the joy of the season transcends earthly limitations.

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Expedition 64 crew members Sergei V. Kud-Sverchkov of Roscosmos, left, Hopkins, Walker, Sergei N. Ryzhikov of Roscosmos, Glover, Rubins, and Noguchi welcome in 2021 aboard the space station. Credits: NASA

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