We all love a nice Christmas dinner, but things are a bit more complicated in outer space. The obligatory Christmas turkey, yams, and cranberry sauce were ferried with another 5,600 pounds (2,500 kilograms) of cargo — as well as some well-deserved fruitcake.

Tracy Caldwell Dyson (part of the Expedition 24 crew) in the Cupola ISS, enjoying the amazing view. Credits: NASA.

Aside from the special dinner, the SpaceX Falcon rocket took off carrying much of the usual cargo — but the launch had to be delayed due to some problems with the food for the other residents of the ISS: 40 mice and 36,000 worms, which are used for muscle and aging studies. The food for these creatures had gone moldy, which forced NASA engineers to delay the launch for a day until the resupply was completed.

Still, after this minor accident, things went pretty smoothly — for the most part.

“What a great day for a launch,” said Kennedy Space Center director Bob Cabana. Twenty years ago this week, Cabana himself commanded the shuttle mission that carried up the first U.S. part of the space station.

For SpaceX, which operates these launches, things didn’t really go as intended, as the first-stage booster missed its designated landing zone, instead of touching down on a barge in the ocean off the coast of Florida. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tweeted about the event, saying that the booster is “undamaged and transmitting data”, but added that it could only be re-used for internal SpaceX missions.

All of SpaceX’s 12 previous ground landings were successful, with the company recovering 32 boosters after liftoff (33 if this one is also counted), said Hans Koenigsmann, a SpaceX vice president. Koenigsmann also explained that the booster deliberately avoided landing after sensing a problem, which is a built-in safety feature SpaceX implemented to avoid potentially dangerous accidents.

“Public safety was well protected here,” he told reporters.

Space food

The menu on Skylab (the predecessor of the ISS) menu included grape drink, beef pot roast, chicken and rice, beef sandwiches and sugar cookie cubes, orange drink, strawberries, asparagus, prime rib, dinner roll and butterscotch pudding. Credits: NASA.

Packets of mushroom soup, orange-grapefruit juice, cocoa beverage, pineapple juice, chicken with gravy, pears, strawberries, beef, and vegetables. Credits: NASA.

So what do astronauts eat for Christmas? A typical hearty dinner, which includes smoked turkey breast, cranberry sauce, candied yams, and the traditional fruitcake. But not all astronauts on the ISS will enjoy this meal.

The current ISS crew includes two Americans, two Russians, one German and one Canadian — and only the three newest residents will remain on board for Christmas. These are Anne McClain of NASA, David Saint-Jacques of the Canadian Space Agency, and Oleg Konenenko of Roscosmos, who arrived at the station on 3 December aboard a Soyuz spacecraft. The others will return to Earth on Dec. 20, right in time for a Christmas meal with their friends and family.

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