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Thanksgiving table will have empty places in space

Space station trio
NASA astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor, at right, takes a group selfie with Russia’s Sergey Prokopyev and Germany’s Alexander Gerst on the International Space Station. (NASA Photo)

Thanksgiving is traditionally a time for big gatherings around the dinner table, but this year’s feast on the International Space Station will be served to only three people. And only two of them have the day off.

That’s because two spacefliers who were supposed to be in orbit at this time of year missed out on their ride: NASA’s Nick Hague and Russia’s Alexey Ovchinin had to return to Earth just minutes after their launch on Oct. 11 due to a Soyuz rocket malfunction. The next crew won’t arrive until next month.

As a result, NASA astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor is the only one on the station who has traditionally observed American Thanksgiving.

German astronaut Alexander Gerst is getting the day off as well, even though the closest thing to Thanksgiving in Germany, a harvest festival known as Erntedankfest, is usually celebrated in September or October. And for the third crew member, Russia’s Sergey Prokopyev, it’s just another workday.

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Thanksgiving in space: Another day at the office

Thanksgiving Day is a workday on the International Space Station, but it’s still a special day for the station’s six crew members — even for the ones who aren’t American.

“I’m Italian, and we don’t have Thanksgiving,” the European Space Agency’s Paolo Nespoli said in NASA’s holiday video. “It’s not that we don’t say thanks, but we don’t have the celebration of Thanksgiving.”

Except in orbit.

The tasks on the Thanksgiving agenda include processing cargo that arrived last week aboard a robotic Cygnus spaceship. But at the end of the day, the three Americans on board— Randy Bresnik, Joe Acaba and Mark Vande Hei — will kick back with Nespoli and Russian cosmonauts Alexander Misurkin and Sergey Ryazansky.

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