Astronauts share freeze-dried Thanksgiving feast - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Astronauts share freeze-dried Thanksgiving feast

HOUSTON (AP) - The smoked turkey is ready to be heated up. All the freeze-dried green beans and cornbread dressing need are water injections before they're served.

Like millions of Americans, the seven Endeavour astronauts and three space station crew members were enjoying a traditional Thanksgiving dinner Thursday. But unlike families on Earth, they'll be floating - not sitting down - for their feast at the joined space shuttle-international space station complex, some 220 miles above.

"Happy Thanksgiving to the entire crew," Mission Control radioed up, after playing the Electric Light Orchestra's "Hold on Tight" as a wake-up song.

Astronaut Heide Stefanyshyn-Piper radioed back, "We give thanks for what we have and never stop dreaming."

It was going to be an early Thanksgiving meal for the nine U.S. astronauts and single Russian cosmonaut, with the last candied yam likely eaten before the Detroit Lions score their first touchdown.

The shuttle astronauts have to do some last-minute packing before they say goodbye to the station crew and close the hatch between Endeavour and the space station Thursday afternoon.

The space shuttle is set to undock from the space station early Friday and return to Florida on Sunday, completing a 16-day mission.

"It's going to be sad tomorrow to see our ... friends leave," station commander Mike Fincke said Wednesday night. "But it will be a happy Thanksgiving."

It is somewhat unusual for shuttle and station crews to eat a meal together, given their different schedules and various chores. The crew members will take several precautions for the meal - keeping fire extinguishers and gas masks in the dining area, for instance.

"So, if anything happens when they're all sitting in one place, you don't have to run in all the wrong directions to grab all the equipment you need," said flight director Holly Ridings.

The astronauts also will be given time to talk to friends and relatives on the ground during their morning off-duty time.

Meanwhile, the mission's other tasks are winding down.

The shuttle and station crews finished their last major job Wednesday - zipping up a huge space station crate and loading it back onto Endeavour.

Astronauts used the space station's robot arm to latch onto the giant canister that had held new equipment for the space station. Among the home improvement items delivered more than a week ago: a bathroom, kitchenette, two bedrooms, exercise equipment, and a system that purifies urine, sweat and condensation into drinking water. All is needed to double the space station's population to six next year.

Flight controllers had considered having the stubborn urine-recycling piece of the $154 million water system return to Earth. The urine processor had shut down during several days of test runs.

But after five days of tinkering, astronauts got the machine working, and it's since churned out seven liters of recycled urine and condensation for testing back on Earth. NASA wants to test the samples and run the equipment in orbit for at least three months before allowing anyone to drink the recycled stuff.

Astronaut Gregory Chamitoff, who has lived at the orbiting outpost for the past six months, spent his last night with space station colleagues. He is returning aboard Endeavour and is being replaced at the space station by astronaut Sandra Magnus.

"It's been one great adventure," Chamitoff radioed Mission Control. "I can't wait to see you all back on the ground."         

On the Net:       NASA: http://spaceflight.nasa.gov             

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)      

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