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Endeavour Astronauts Will Spend Thanksgiving Circling Earth

Space shuttle Endeavour's seven astronauts will spend Thanksgiving circling Earth, and one of them — Sandra Magnus — will stick around for Christmas and New Year's as well.

Commander Christopher Ferguson said at least seven turkey dinners have been stowed aboard Endeavour for the trip to the international space station. Liftoff for the two-week mission is set for Friday night.

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"They've given us the full seven-course Thanksgiving meal, and all we need to have now is the time to eat it," Ferguson said.

The made-to-order holiday menu includes irradiated smoked turkey, thermostabilized candied yams, rehydratable green beans and mushrooms, fresh corn bread dressing and cranberry-apple dessert.

A look at the five men and two women who will fly on Endeavour:

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Commander Christopher Ferguson secretly wanted to be an astronaut even before he joined the Navy.

His wish came true 10 years ago, and now he's about to command his first space mission.

"I've had this on my mind, I would say, since perhaps high school, and I'm just lucky enough to be able to fulfill the dream," he said. "It's nice to be in charge, but it's also nice to see how the whole thing comes together."

Ferguson, 47, a Navy captain and former test pilot, has flown in space once before, as co-pilot on a 2006 mission.

He loves music and is a drummer in an astronaut rock 'n' roll band. He and his wife, Sandra, have a 16-year-old daughter and two sons, ages 14 and 12. All their children play in the school band.

He grew up in Philadelphia.

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Pilot Eric Boe can't wait to take "a ride of a lifetime."

The first-time space traveler has been flying for the Air Force since the late 1980s, and has logged more than 4,000 flight hours in more than 45 types of aircraft.

Flying in space has "always been kind of a far-off dream," said Boe, 44, an Air Force colonel who grew up in Atlanta. He got into the astronaut corps on his first try in 2000 and will be the first shuttle pilot in his astronaut class to reach orbit.

Wife Kristen, now a full-time mother to their 10-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son, used to be a military pilot, too. It makes life easier being married to a pilot, Boe said, "but I can't tell as many stories ... she calls my bluff a lot more."

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This time, Donald Pettit will visit the international space station for 1 1/2 weeks. Last time, he spent 5 1/2 months there.

Pettit, 53, who has a Ph.D. in chemical engineering, was living at the space station when shuttle Columbia shattered during re-entry in 2003. He ended up returning on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft that plunged too steeply to Earth and briefly was lost with his crewmates in remote Kazakhstan. The unflappable Pettit has no hesitation about returning to space.

It helps when you're on the space station, Pettit said, to have grown up in a small logging and farming town like Silverton, Ore., his hometown. He worked as a heavy equipment mechanic to help pay his way through college.

Pettit will help hook up a new water recycling system at the space station and operate a robotic arm, or crane, which he says won't be that different from his construction jobs during summers as a student.

Two years ago, he spent a few months in Antarctica searching for meteorites, in part to draw comparisons between polar expeditions and space station life.

His twin sons will turn 8 while he is in orbit. He missed their 2nd birthdays on his last space trip, but wife Micki did her best to make up for his absence. She'll do so again.

This is his second spaceflight since becoming an astronaut in 1996.

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Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper is the first woman assigned as the lead spacewalker on a shuttle flight.

She will perform three spacewalks to clean and lubricate a jammed solar-wing rotating joint. On her only other mission in 2006, she took two spacewalks.

Stefanyshyn-Piper, 45, wanted to fly for the Navy in the mid-1980s, but failed the eye exam. She joined the Navy anyway and went into diving and underwater salvage. She would have been "perfectly happy" with that career, but put in an astronaut application and was selected in 1996.

"I decided that spacewalks were more like diving than flying. So I figured now I'd get to fly in the ultimate machine, the space shuttle," said the Navy captain, who grew up in St. Paul, Minn.

Her engineer husband, Glenn Piper, works for NASA and, in fact, is in charge of all the equipment used in her underwater training for the mission. They have one child, a 19-year-old son who is a college sophomore.

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Navy Capt. Stephen Bowen hopes to put his ceramic tiling experience to work on the mission when he uses a caulk gun to apply grease to a jammed space station joint.

He helped out in his father's tiling business while growing up in Cohasset, Mass. One brother still does that sort of work. Another is a house painter, another a banker.

"Hopefully, the critiques of my brothers (after seeing his space station repair work) won't be so harsh that they don't let me work on my house anymore," he joked.

Becoming an astronaut was right up there with fireman and professional hockey player when Bowen was a boy. He became a submariner instead — Jacques Cousteau inspired him during the 1970s — and was the first submarine officer to be selected as an astronaut in 2000. He saw it as a logical step "if you want to live in a metal tube for long periods of time."

Bowen, 44, will perform three spacewalks on his first spaceflight.

Bowen and wife Deborah have a 17-year-old son, 15-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son.

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Robert "Shane" Kimbrough got rockets in his blood while visiting his grandparents who lived near Kennedy Space Center. He spent lots of time there in the early 1970s; his father was an Army field artillery officer in Vietnam.

Kimbrough, 41, followed in his father's footsteps, joining the Army and becoming a helicopter pilot and platoon leader. He went to NASA in 2000 as a flight simulation engineer for the aircraft meant to simulate shuttle landings and became an astronaut four years later.

This is his first spaceflight. He will perform two spacewalks.

A huge sports fan, Kimbrough coaches his 8-year-old son's football team and tries hard to be humble and "a normal guy."

"I just tell the kids, 'Hey, I'm just going on a little business trip for a couple weeks and I'll be back when you guys are in the playoffs.' I try to keep it down at their level," said Kimbrough, a lieutenant colonel who grew up in Atlanta and was captain of his West Point military academy baseball team.

Kimbrough and wife Robbie also have 11-year-old twin daughters.

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Bound for a 3 1/2-month space station stay, Sandra Magnus is leaving behind a hurricane-damaged roof near Johnson Space Center in Houston that needs to be replaced. Friends have promised to take care of it for her.

Magnus briefly visited the international space station in 2002. This will be her second space trip.

Magnus, 44, decided while growing up in Belleville, Ill., that she wanted to be an astronaut, but was shy about her dream. It stuck with her even as she worked as an engineer and pursued a Ph.D., and she applied to the astronaut corps in 1995, failing to get in. She reapplied the next year and was accepted.

She doesn't dwell on the risks of spaceflight.

"To me, this is an interesting job. It's a challenging job. It's a job, I think, that is useful, doing something positive. It's something I've always wanted to do. It's how I've wanted to spend my life, and certainly there are risks involved, but there are risk involved in everyday life."

Magnus, who is single, considers her brother's policeman job in the suburbs of St. Louis far riskier on a day-to-day basis.