A Stellar New Year Party: How They Celebrate in Space

PHOTO by NASA
The most unusual New Year parties are those arranged by astronauts

If they so wish, they can raise their champagne glasses to toast the start of the year as many as 16 times: that's the number of time zones they cross in 24 hours. However, enjoying a glass of champagne in zero gravity is quite tricky. Lenta.ru has learned about New Year traditions and other special features of life in space from a Hero of Russia, cosmonaut Alexander Lazutkin.

No Champagne, but a Christmas Tree

I'm unlucky: I have never been on the station during New Year celebrations. But I've got a good idea how it's celebrated there thanks to my colleagues’ stories. This holiday is, of course, always celebrated. The Christmas tree is decorated in space, for sure.

It is sent up in advance, as a parcel and they use ordinary, made of plastic and tinsel. The most creative crews also use what is at hand for decorations. One cosmonaut used tools: nuts and bolts, screwdrivers and wrenches. It looked beautiful and avant-garde. Sweets also look good on the tree. Since the tree can float anywhere in zero gravity, it is tied to something fixed. Some cosmonauts put the tree on the ceiling. You could never achieve that on Earth, but in space it can be easily done.

It's impossible to skip the festive lunch and dinner. There is a problem with the champagne, though. In space it turns straight into foam. And alcohol is strictly forbidden on the station. However, many cosmonauts find a way out of this difficult situation: there are always loads of tasty dishes on the table. The firms which produce food for cosmonauts usually make special holiday meals.

Nowadays, space missions are manned by people from different countries, so cosmonauts share their food and traditions. Russian cosmonauts, for example, celebrate Christmas, put gifts for their colleagues into Christmas stockings and lay an international table.

The Americans, for example, have delicious cocoa and seafood, while Russia is proud of its cottage cheese with nuts and tinned fish. There is no Olivier salad or herring under a fur coat in space, though.

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A Call from Orbit

In theory, you can celebrate the New Year 16 times in one orbit as the station crosses different time zones. But usually it is celebrated three or four times, depending on the earth time of the cosmonauts. This day is very emotional: the cosmonauts call their relatives and friends to congratulate them. It can be done easily these days. When I was in charge of the Museum of Cosmonautics, we put out a box before the New Year so that children could send letters with questions and wishes to the space station. One boy asked us to wish his friend – Misha Kornienko – a happy birthday from space. At that time we had cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko in orbit. He called the number given in the letter, but the phone was answered by the boy’s father. Our cosmonaut introduced himself, said he was calling from the space station and to stop to messing around. The phone call only got through after the museum intervened.

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Cosmonaut Alexander Lazutkin

Living by Schedule

Every day, even holidays, is similar to the days on Earth. We get up, have a wash, brush our teeth, go to the toilet. The only difference from our terrestrial schedules is that we do not need to spend extra time getting to work and doing the shopping.

The hardest thing is to work precisely to schedule. There is a set schedule for work. On Earth, you can put off a task, from the evening until the next morning, for example. In space, everything has to follow schedule strictly: you do it and immediately report back to Earth. And it is very difficult to force yourself to work out in space. Exercise is extremely important for the cardiovascular system. Your brain understands this, but your body says, "I don't want to!" There is a constant struggle between your body and mind.

We had a treadmill on the ship, which pulled you towards it with the force of your choice. Usually you set it for your weight so you're still used to it once you leave zero gravity.

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Lots of people believe that cosmonauts are under constant video surveillance for some reason. That's not the case aboard Russian ships. The Americans broadcast everything though, even on TV. Anyone can see what the astronauts are doing. We only turn on the video camera upon request from the Earth: there is always somewhere to go for privacy at the station.

Unearthly Stress

Cosmonauts are trained for stress during their earthbound preparations. For example, we do training with a parachute to strengthen our nervous system. You are dropped from and aircraft at an altitude of three kilometres and you fall, without opening the parachute, down to 700 metres.

During your free-fall, you are given different tasks: to describe what you see, to solve arithmetic problems, addition-subtraction, that kind of thing. We are trained to ensure that we won't panic in emergency situations.

But it seems that being an astronaut is one of the least stressful jobs. On one hand, almost all cosmonauts dream about their work since childhood, so it means that we get great pleasure from what we do. It seems that these positive emotions should improve your health. But no, we are between a rock and a hard place. On Earth, we are constantly worried that any of us could be rejected as an cosmonaut for health reasons or because they have not learnt the material. We have a mental load of 18 hours a day, on top of which you have to find time for sports and for a proper sleep.

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Nowadays there is lot of talk about telemedicine, but it has already been being used in space for a long time. During the flight, we have weekly medical examinations where our physiological indicators checked. We get tested quickly and send all the results to Earth, where doctors decide whether you need something or not.

Author: Natalia Granina