Astronauts Celebrate Holiday Among
Much like the shepherds and wise men during the first
Christmas, people around the world had their attention turned toward
the heavens on Dec. 24, 1968, when the Apollo
8 crew delivered its famous Christmas
Eve broadcast from lunar orbit.
Commander Frank Borman, Command Module Pilot Jim
Lovell and Lunar Module Pilot William Anders became the first humans
to orbit the Moon on Christmas Eve 1968. They were also the first
astronauts to spend Christmas in space. To mark the occasion, they
sent Christmas greetings and live images back to their home planet
and read from the Book of Genesis. It is estimated that as many
as one billion people watched the historic broadcast or listened
on the radio.
Apollo 8 launched from Earth on Dec. 21 and entered
lunar orbit on Christmas Eve. The Apollo 8 crewmembers ended their
history-making journey when they splashed down in the Pacific Ocean
on Dec. 27. Eight more Apollo missions would visit the Moon, with
six of them landing on its surface.
4 crew was the next set of astronauts to spend Christmas in
space, in 1973. To give Skylab a touch of the holiday season, Commander
Gerald Carr, Pilot William Pogue and Scientist Edward Gibson made
a Christmas tree with food cans.
It would be 22 years before another American would
spend Christmas outside Earth's atmosphere. Astronaut John Blaha celebrated the holiday in orbit aboard the Russian Mir space station
in 1996. His crewmates were Russian Cosmonauts Valery Korzun and
Alexander Kaleri, who will spend his second Christmas in space this
year as a member of the Expedition
8 crew aboard the International Space Station. Kaleri's Expedition
8 crewmate is Astronaut Michael Foale, who will also spend his second
Christmas in space. In 1999, Foale was a member of STS-103,
the first and only Space Shuttle mission to fly during the holiday.
Foale and his STS-103 crewmates gave NASA and the
world a Christmas present that is still giving to the scientific
community. After three consecutive days of spacewalks to make repairs
and upgrades, they returned the Hubble Space Telescope to service
on Christmas Day. Hubble had been in hibernation since the loss
of its fourth gyroscope, designed to enable the telescope to point
precisely at distant astronomical targets for scientific observations.
Each of the seven STS-103 crewmembers, which included
astronauts from the United States, France and Switzerland, called
down holiday wishes from space in several languages after Space
Shuttle Discovery departed Hubble.
The first Christmas aboard the International Space
Station occurred in 2000 with the Expedition 1 crew. Astronaut Bill
Shepherd and Cosmonauts Yuri Gidzenko and Sergei Krikalev spent
a quiet Christmas Day opening gifts and talking to their families.
Two more crews have spent Christmas on the ISS, Expedition
4 and 6, in similar ways with a few exceptions. Expedition 4
celebrated with turkey and other traditional holiday foods. And
the Expedition 6 crew
assembled and frosted a cake shaped like a candy cane. Santa delivered
the gifts to the Station with assistance of the Space Shuttle, Soyuz
and Progress spacecraft.