Category: astronauts

Part of the appeal of Thanksgiving is how easily we settle into the familiar: cherished foods, friends and family, and favorite activities like football, puzzles or board games. As anyone who has spent Thanksgiving with someone else’s traditions knows, those familiar things can take on seemingly unusual forms. That’s especially true when you’re 200 miles up in space.

Holidays in space weren’t very common early in the program, but as astronauts start the 20th year of continuous habitation they will also be celebrating the 20th consecutive Thanksgiving in orbit. As it turns out, everything’s the same, but different.


Early in the space program, astronauts didn’t have much choice about their meals. A turkey dinner with all the trimmings was as much a pipe dream in the early 1960s as space travel had been a few decades earlier. Food had to be able to stay fresh, or at least edible, from the time it was packed until the end of the mission, which might be several weeks. It couldn’t be bulky or heavy, but it had to contain all the nutrition an astronaut would need. It had to be easily contained, so crumbs or droplets wouldn’t escape the container and get into the spacecraft instrumentation. For the first flights, that meant a lot of food in tubes or in small bite-sized pieces.


Examples of food from the Mercury program

Chores first, then dinner

Maybe you rake leaves to start the day or straighten up the house for guests. Perhaps you’re the cook. Just like you, astronauts sometimes have to earn their Thanksgiving dinner. In 1974, two members of the Skylab 4 crew started their day with a six-and-a-half hour spacewalk, replacing film canisters mounted outside the spacecraft and deploying an experiment package.

After the spacewalk, the crew could at least “sit down” for a meal together that included food they didn’t have to eat directly from a bag, tube or pouch. In the spacecraft’s “ward room”, a station held three trays of food selected for the astronauts. The trays themselves kept the food warm.


A food tray similar to the ones astronauts used aboard Skylab, showing food, utensils and clean wipes. The tray itself warmed the food.


The ward room aboard Skylab showing the warming trays in use. The Skylab 4 crew ate Thanksgiving dinner there in 1974.

Fresh food

It can’t be all mashed potatoes and pie. There have to be some greens. NASA has that covered with VEGGIE, the ongoing experiment to raise food crops aboard the space station. Though the current crop won’t necessarily be on the Thanksgiving menu, astronauts have already harvested and eaten “space lettuce”. Researchers hope to be growing peppers aboard the space station in 2020.


Astronaut Kjell Lindgren enjoys lettuce grown and harvested aboard the International Space Station.


Space station crews have been able to watch football on Thanksgiving thanks to live feeds from Mission Control. Unfortunately their choices of activities can be limited by their location. That long walk around the neighborhood to shake off the turkey coma? Not happening.


Football in space. It’s a thing.

Be Prepared for the Unplanned

No matter how you plan, there’s a chance something’s going to go wrong, perhaps badly. It happened aboard the Space Shuttle on Thanksgiving 1989. Flight Director Wayne Hale tells of plumbing problem that left Commander Fred Gregory indisposed and vacuum-suctioned to a particular seat aboard the spacecraft.


 This is not the seat from which the mission commander flies the Space Shuttle.

Hungry for More?

If you can’t get enough of space food, tune into this episode of “Houston, We Have a Podcast” and explore the delicious science of astronaut mealtime.

And whether you’re eating like a king or one of our astronauts currently living and working in space, we wish everybody a happy and safe Thanksgiving!

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If you need to fix something on Earth, you could go to a store, buy the tools you need, and get started. In space, it’s not that easy.


Aside from the obvious challenges associated with space (like it being cold and there being no gravity), developing the right tools requires a great deal of creativity because every task is different, especially when the tools need to be designed from scratch. From the time an engineer dreams up the right tools to the time they are used in space, it can be quite a process.

On Nov. 15, astronauts Luca Parmitano and Drew Morgan began a series of spacewalks to repair an instrument called the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS-2) on the exterior of the International Space Station. The first of four spacewalk focused on using specialized tools to remove shields and covers, to gain access to the heart of AMS to perform the repairs, and install a new cooling system.


The debris shield that covered Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer floats away toward Earth as astronaut Drew Morgan successfully releases it.

Once repaired, AMS will continue to help us understand more about the formation of the universe and search for evidence of dark matter and antimatter.

These spacewalks, or extravehicular activities (EVAs), are the most complex of their kind since the servicing of the Hubble Space Telescope. AMS is particularly challenging to repair not only because of the instrument’s complexity and sensitivity, but also because it was never designed to be fixed. Because of this design, it does not have the kinds of interfaces that make spacewalks easier, or the ability to be operated on with traditional multi-purpose tools. These operations are so complex, their design and planning has taken four years. Let’s take a look at how we got ready to repair AMS.


Thinking Outside of the (Tool) Box

When designing the tools, our engineers need to keep in mind various complications that would not come into play when fixing something on Earth. For example, if you put a screw down while you’re on Earth, gravity will keep it there — in space, you have to consistently make sure each part is secure or it will float away. You also have to add a pressurized space suit with limited dexterity to the equation, which further complicates the tool design.


In addition to regular space complications, the AMS instrument itself presents many challenges — with over 300,000 data channels, it was considered too complex to service and therefore was not designed to one day be repaired or updated if needed. Additionally, astronauts have never before cut and reconnected micro-fluid lines (4 millimeters wide, less than the width of the average pencil) during a spacewalk, which is necessary to repair AMS, so our engineers had to develop the tools for this big first. 


With all of this necessary out-of-the-box thinking, who better to go to for help than the teams that worked on the most well-known repair missions — the Hubble servicing missions and the space station tool teams? Building on the legacy of these missions, some of our same engineers that developed tools for the Hubble servicing missions and space station maintenance got to work designing the necessary tools for the AMS repair, some reworked from Hubble, and some from scratch. In total, the teams from Goddard Space Flight Center’s Satellite Servicing Projects Division, Johnson Space Center, and AMS Project Office developed 21 tools for the mission.

Designing and Building

Like many great inventions, it all starts with a sketch. Engineers figure out what steps need to be taken to accomplish the task, and imagine the necessary tools to get the job done.

From there, engineers develop a computer-aided design (CAD) model, and get to building a prototype. Tools will then undergo multiple iterations and testing with the AMS repair team and astronauts to get the design just right, until eventually, they are finalized, ready to undergo vibration and thermal vacuum testing to make sure they can withstand the harsh conditions of launch and use in the space environment. 

Hex Head Capture Tool Progression:


Hex Head Capture Tool Used in Space: 


Practice Makes Perfect

One of the reasons the AMS spacewalks have been four years in the making is because the complexity of the repairs required the astronauts to take extra time to practice. Over many months, astronauts tasked with performing the spacewalks practiced the AMS repair procedures in numerous ways to make sure they were ready for action. They practiced in:  

Virtual reality simulations:


The Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory:


The Active Response Gravity Offload System (ARGOS):


Astronauts use this testing to develop and practice procedures in space-like conditions, but also to figure out what works and doesn’t work, and what changes need to be made. A great example is a part of the repair that involves cutting and reconnecting fluid lines. When astronauts practiced cutting the fluid lines during testing here on Earth, they found it was difficult to identify which was the right one to cut based on sight alone. 

The tubes on the AMS essentially look the same.


After discussing the concern with the team monitoring the EVAs, the engineers once again got to work to fix the problem.


And thus, the Tube Cutting Guide tool was born! Necessity is the mother of invention and the team could not have anticipated the astronauts would need such a tool until they actually began practicing. The Tube Cutting Guide provides alignment guides, fiducials and visual access to enable astronauts to differentiate between the tubes. After each of eight tubes is cut, a newly designed protective numbered cap is installed to cover the sharp tubing.


Off to Space


With the tools and repair procedures tested and ready to go, they launched to the International Space Station earlier this year. Now they’re in the middle of the main event – Luca and Drew completed the first spacewalk last Friday, taking things apart to access the interior of the AMS instrument. Currently, there are three other spacewalks scheduled over the course of a month. The next spacewalk will happen on Nov. 22 and will put the Tube Cutting Guide to use when astronauts reconnect the tubes to a new cooling system.

With the ingenuity of our tool designers and engineers, and our astronauts’ vigorous practice, AMS will be in good hands.


Check out the full video for the first spacewalk. Below you can check out each of the Goddard tools above in action in space!

Debris Shield Worksite:
2:29:16 – Debris Shield Handling Aid
2:35:25 – Hex Head Capture Tool (first)
2:53:31 – #10 Allen Bit
2:54:59 – Capture Cages
3:16:35 – #10 Allen Bit (diagonal side)
3:20:58 – Socket Head Capture Tool
3:33:35 – Hex Head Capture Tool (last)
3:39:35 – Fastener Capture Block
3:40:55 – Debris Shield removal
3:46:46 – Debris Shield jettison

Vertical Support Beam (VSB) Worksite:
5:15:27 – VSB Cover Handling Aid
5:18:05 – #10 Allen Bit
5:24:34 – Socket Head Capture Tool
5:41:54 – VSB Cover breaking
5:45:22 – VSB Cover jettison
5:58:20 – Top Spacer Tool & M4 Allen Bit
6:08:25 – Top Spacer removal
7:42:05 – Astronaut shoutout to the tools team

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Launched less than four months after Apollo 11 put the first astronauts on the Moon, Apollo 12 was more than a simple encore. After being struck by lightning on launch – to no lasting damage, fortunately – Apollo 12 headed for a rendezvous with a spacecraft that was already on the Moon. The mission would expand the techniques used to explore the Moon and show the coordination between robotic and human exploration, both of which continue today as we get return to return astronauts to the Moon by 2024

Launch Day


Apollo 12 lifted off at 11:22 a.m. EST, Nov. 14, 1969, from our Kennedy Space Center. Aboard the Apollo 12 spacecraft were astronauts Charles Conrad Jr., commander; Richard F. Gordon Jr., command module pilot; and Alan L. Bean, lunar module pilot.

Barely 40 seconds after liftoff, lightning struck the spacecraft. Conrad alerted Houston that the crew had lost telemetry and other data from the mission computers. As the Saturn V engines continued to push the capsule to orbit, ground controllers worked out a solution, restarting some electrical systems, and Apollo 12 headed toward the Moon.


Cameras at the Kennedy Space Center captured this image of the same lightning bolt that struck Apollo 12 striking the mobile platform used for the launch.

On the Moon

Apollo 12 landed on the Moon on Nov. 19, and on the second moonwalk Conrad and Bean walked approximately 200 yards to the Surveyor 3 spacecraft. One of seven Surveyor spacecraft sent to land on the Moon and to gather data on the best way to land humans there, Surveyor 3 had been on the Moon for more than two years, exposed to cosmic radiation and the vacuum of space. Scientists on the ground wanted to recover parts of the spacecraft to see what effects the environment had had on it.


Apollo 12 commander Pete Conrad examines the Surveyor 3 spacecraft before removing its camera and other pieces for return to Earth. In the background is the lunar module that landed Conrad and lunar module pilot Alan Bean on the Moon.



Apollo 12 splashed down on Nov. 24. When Artemis returns astronauts to the Moon in 2024, it will be building on Apollo 12 as much as any of the other missions. Just as Apollo 12 had to maneuver off the standard “free return” trajectory to reach its landing site near Surveyor, Artemis missions will take advantage of the Gateway to visit a variety of lunar locations. The complementary work of Surveyor and Apollo – a robotic mission preparing the way for a crewed mission; that crewed mission going back to the robotic mission to learn more from it – prefigures how Artemis will take advantage of commercial lunar landers and other programs to make lunar exploration sustainable over the long term.

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Just like people here on Earth, astronauts get shipments too! But not in the typical sense. 8,200 pounds of cargo, including supplies and scientific experiments, is on its way to the International Space Station thanks to Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus cargo spacecraft. This ‘package’ launched out of Wallops Flight Facility on Nov. 2, 2019 at 9:59 a.m. EDT. The investigations aboard the rocket range from research into human control of robotics in space to reprocessing fibers for 3D printing. Get ready, because these new and exciting experiments are arriving soon!



Stars, planets and their molecules only make up 15% of our universe. The rest is dark matter. However, no one has actually ever been able to see or study it. The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer -02 (AMS-02) has been searching for this substance since 2011. Northrop Grumman’s CRS-12 mission carries new parts for AMS-02 that will be added during a series of upcoming spacewalks so that the instrument can continue to help us shed light on this mystery.



Rovers operated by astronauts on the International Space Station will attempt to collect geological samples on Earth as part of an investigation called ANALOG-1. The samples, however, are not the important part of the study. Humans experience degraded sensorimotor functions in microgravity that could affect their operation of a robot. This study is designed to learn more about these issues, so that one day astronauts could use robots to perform research on planets they hope to walk on.



The AstroRad Vest is pretty rad. So rad, in fact, that it was sent up on the launch of Northrop Grumman’s CRS-12 mission. This vest intends to protect astronauts from harmful radiation in space. While going about normal activity on the space station, astronauts will wear AstroRad and make note of things like comfort over long periods of time. This will help researchers on Earth finalize the best design for future long duration missions.



The Made in Space Recycler (MIS) looks at how different materials on the International Space Station can be turned into filament used for 3D printing. This 3D printing is done right there in space, in the Additive Manufacturing Facility. Similar studies will be conducted on Earth so that comparisons can be made.  



A collaboration between Automobili Lamborghini and the Houston Methodist Research Institute will be using NanoRacks-Craig-X FTP  to test the performance of 3D-printed carbon fiber composites in the extreme environment of space. The study could lead to materials used both in space and on Earth. For example, the study may help improve the design of implantable devices for therapeutic drug delivery.



Everyone enjoys the aroma of fresh-baked cookies, even astronauts. On future long-duration space missions, fresh-baked food could have psychological and physiological benefits for crew members, providing them with a greater variety of more nutritious meals. The Zero-G Oven experiment examines heat transfer properties and the process of baking food in microgravity.


Want to learn about more investigations heading to the space station (or even ones currently under way)? Make sure to follow @ISS_Research on Twitter and Space Station Research and Technology News on Facebook. 

If you want to see the International Space Station with your own eyes, check out Spot the Station to see it pass over your town.

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Observing Earth from space can alter an astronauts’ cosmic perspective, a mental shift known as the “Overview Effect.” First coined by space writer Frank White in 1987, the Overview Effect is described as a feeling of awe for our home planet and a sense of responsibility for taking care of it.

See Earth from the vantage point of our astronauts in these perspective-changing views:

Floating Free in Space


Astronaut Bruce McCandless II used his hands to control his movement above the Earth during the first-ever spacewalk that didn’t use restrictive tethers and umbilicals. Fellow crew members aboard the space shuttle Challenger captured this image on Feb. 7, 1984, through windows on the flight deck.

Of his famous spacewalk, McCandless wrote in 2015: “My wife [Bernice] was at mission control, and there was quite a bit of apprehension. I wanted to say something similar to Neil [Armstrong] when he landed on the moon, so I said, ‘It may have been a small step for Neil, but it’s a heck of a big leap for me.’ That loosened the tension a bit.”

Earth Reflections


Astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson looks through a window in the Cupola of the International Space Station (ISS). A blue and white part of Earth and the blackness of space are visible through the windows. The image was a self-portrait using natural light.

In a preflight interview for Expedition 23/24, Dyson said: “hands down, the best part about it is being able to look at that view every day and during the time frame we’ll be up there, hopefully, we’ll have a big bay window and much more opportunity to observe this beautiful planet.”

Taking in the View


As astronaut Nick Hague prepared to conclude his six-month stay aboard the ISS, he shared this photo saying: “Today is my last Monday living on this orbiting laboratory and I’m soaking up my final views. The @Space_Station is truly an engineering marvel. #MondayMotivation." 

He and Expedition 60 and Soyuz commander Alexey Ovchinin of the Russian space agency Roscosmos​ completed a 203-day mission, spanning 3,248 orbits of Earth, and a journey of 80.8 million miles.



On Dec. 24, 1968, Apollo 8 astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders became the first humans to witness the Earth rising above the Moon’s surface. 

 Anders, photographing the Moon from the right-side window, caught sight of the view, and exclaimed: “Oh my God, look at that picture over there! There’s the Earth comin’ up. Wow, is that pretty!”

The Blue Marble


Besides Earthrise, the Blue Marble is probably the most famous image of Earth that NASA has produced. Taken by the Apollo 17 crew on their way to the Moon in 1972, the Blue Marble and other NASA imagery of Earth has been credited by some with helping to fuel the environmental movement.

For more information on the Overview Effect, check out this episode of Houston We Have a Podcast

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Since the 19th century, women have been making strides in areas like coding, computing, programming and space travel, despite the challenges they have faced. Sally Ride joined NASA in 1983 and five years later she became the first female American astronaut. Ride’s accomplishments paved the way for the dozens of other women who became astronauts, and the hundreds of thousands more who pursued careers in science and technology. Just last week, we celebrated our very first #AllWomanSpacewalk with astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir.

Here are just a couple of examples of pioneers who brought us to where we are today:

The Conquest of the Sound Barrier


Pearl Young was hired in 1922 by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), NASA’s predecessor organization, to work at its Langley site in support in instrumentation, as one of the first women hired by the new agency. Women were also involved with the NACA at the Muroc site in California (now Armstrong Flight Research Center) to support flight research on advanced, high-speed aircraft. These women worked on the X-1 project, which became the first airplane to fly faster than the speed of sound. 

Young was the first woman hired as a technical employee and the second female physicist working for the federal government.

The Human Computers of Langley


The NACA hired five women in 1935 to form its first “computer pool”, because they were hardworking, “meticulous” and inexpensive. After the United States entered World War II, the NACA began actively recruiting similar types to meet the workload. These women did all the mathematical calculations – by hand – that desktop and mainframe computers do today.

Computers played a role in major projects ranging from World War II aircraft testing to transonic and supersonic flight research and the early space program. Women working as computers at Langley found that the job offered both challenges and opportunities. With limited options for promotion, computers had to prove that women could successfully do the work and then seek out their own opportunities for advancement.

Revolutionizing X-ray Astronomy


Marjorie Townsend was blazing trails from a very young age. She started college at age 15 and became the first woman to earn an engineering degree from the George Washington University when she graduated in 1951. At NASA, she became the first female spacecraft project manager, overseeing the development and 1970 launch of the UHURU satellite. The first satellite dedicated to x-ray astronomy, UHURU detected, surveyed and mapped celestial X-ray sources and gamma-ray emissions.

Women of Apollo

NASA’s mission to land a human on the Moon for the very first time took hundreds of thousands workers. These are some of the stories of the women who made our recent #Apollo50th anniversary possible:


Margaret Hamilton led a NASA team of software engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and helped develop the flight software for NASA’s Apollo missions. She also coined the term “software engineering.” Her team’s groundbreaking work was perfect; there were no software glitches or bugs during the crewed Apollo missions. 

JoAnn Morgan was the only woman working in Mission Control when the Apollo 11 mission launched. She later accomplished many NASA “firsts” for women:  NASA winner of a Sloan Fellowship, division chief, senior executive at the Kennedy Space Center and director of Safety and Mission Assurance at the agency.

Judy Sullivan, was the first female engineer in the agency’s Spacecraft Operations organization, was the lead engineer for health and safety for Apollo 11, and the only woman helping Neil Armstrong suit up for flight.

Hidden Figures

Author Margot Lee Shetterly’s book – and subsequent movie – Hidden Figures, highlighted African-American women who provided instrumental support to the Apollo program, all behind the scenes.


• An alumna of the Langley computing pool, Mary Jackson was hired as the agency’s first African-American female engineer in 1958. She specialized in boundary layer effects on aerospace vehicles at supersonic speeds. 

• An extraordinarily gifted student, Katherine Johnson skipped several grades and attended high school at age 13 on the campus of a historically black college. Johnson calculated trajectories, launch windows and emergency backup return paths for many flights, including Apollo 11.

Christine Darden served as a “computress” for eight years until she approached her supervisor to ask why men, with the same educational background as her (a master of science in applied mathematics), were being hired as engineers. Impressed by her skills, her supervisor transferred her to the engineering section, where she was one of few female aerospace engineers at NASA Langley during that time.

Lovelace’s Woman in Space Program


Geraldyn “Jerrie” Cobb was the among dozens of women recruited in 1960 by Dr. William Randolph “Randy” Lovelace II to undergo the same physical testing regimen used to help select NASA’s first astronauts as part of his privately funded Woman in Space Program.

Ultimately, thirteen women passed the same physical examinations that the Lovelace Foundation had developed for NASA’s astronaut selection process. They were: Jerrie Cobb, Myrtle “K” Cagle, Jan Dietrich, Marion Dietrich, Wally Funk, Jean Hixson, Irene Leverton, Sarah Gorelick, Jane B. Hart, Rhea Hurrle, Jerri Sloan, Gene Nora Stumbough, and Bernice Trimble Steadman. Though they were never officially affiliated with NASA, the media gave these women the unofficial nicknames “Fellow Lady Astronaut Trainees” and the “Mercury Thirteen.”

The First Woman on the Moon


The early space program inspired a generation of scientists and engineers. Now, as we embark on our Artemis program to return humanity to the lunar surface by 2024, we have the opportunity to inspire a whole new generation. The prospect of sending the first woman to the Moon is an opportunity to influence the next age of women explorers and achievers.

This material was adapted from a paper written by Shanessa Jackson (Stellar Solutions, Inc.), Dr. Patricia Knezek (NASA), Mrs. Denise Silimon-Hill (Stellar Solutions), and Ms. Alexandra Cross (Stellar Solutions) and submitted to the 2019 International Astronautical Congress (IAC). For more information about IAC and how you can get involved, click here.

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Other than joy, why do you do the things you do?

What is your advice to someone who wants to follow the same steps you take?

Hey, Kate! What would you say/what advice would you give to your younger self? ✨

Have you ever had to troubleshoot a problem in space?