HOUSTON – Astronauts raised plastic cups of iced tea and toasted the Thanksgiving holiday before eating a traditional dinner of smoked turkey, cornbread dressing and candied yams at the international space station.
"To Thanksgiving. Wishing everyone on Earth, and off Earth, a good Thanksgiving," said Endeavour astronaut Donald Pettit, holding a makeshift cup he had made from plastic covers of shuttle reference books.
Astronauts normally drink from pouches using straws, to prevent liquids from spilling out in weightlessness, but Pettit wanted to show that they could sip from cups. Pettit also made an iced-tea toast to future space explorers and "just because we're in space and we can."
The seven Endeavour astronauts and three space station crew members ate their Thanksgiving meal at the joined shuttle-space station complex, 220 miles above Earth. They spent an off-duty morning in which they talked to friends and relatives on the ground or just looked out the window.
"Just that ability to look out the window and look down on this beautiful planet that we live on is a source of thanks that we all have," Endeavour commander Christopher Ferguson said during a series of television interviews.
Differing schedules and chores usually prevent shuttle and station crews to eat together. Crew members took several precautions for the meal — keeping fire extinguishers and gas masks in the dining area, for instance.
The shuttle astronauts had to do last-minute packing before saying goodbye and closing the hatch between Endeavour and the space station Thursday afternoon.
The shuttle was set to undock early Friday and return to Florida on Sunday, completing a 16-day mission. Endeavour delivered to the space station a new bathroom, kitchenette, two bedrooms, exercise equipment, and a system that purifies urine, sweat and condensation into drinking water. All that is needed to double the space station's population to six next year.
Endeavour astronauts also performed four spacewalks to clean and lubricate a jammed joint that rotates solar wings in the direction of the sun in order to generate power. The shuttle will bring back astronaut Gregory Chamitoff who lived for six months at the space station.
Food taken to space has to be bacteria-free, and that is done by either treating meats with radiation, dehydrating vegetables or heating other foods up to 250 degrees for a half hour. For the Thanksgiving dinner, the smoked turkey was irradiated and the green beans and dressing were freeze-dried, a form of dehydration. The candied yams and dessert were heated.
Despite the turkey with trimmings, astronaut Robert "Shane" Kimbrough said he still missed being with his family on the holiday.
"I think we're all ready to see our families," Kimbrough said.