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Christmas in space: Spokane’s Anne McClain, crewmates celebrate holiday aboard International Space Station

UPDATED: Thu., Dec. 27, 2018

Like Santa, Spokane native Lt. Col. Anne McClain spent this Christmas circling the Earth.

While families gathered around Christmas trees and dinner tables Tuesday, McClain and NASA Expedition 58 crewmates shared their own holiday meal, exchanged gifts and called down to family members from the International Space Station, its orbit carrying them along an arcing path at 4.76 miles per second.

A SpaceX Dragon cargo ship delivered more than 5,600 pounds of supplies to the International Space Station on Dec. 8, including holiday treats such as smoked turkey, corn, potatoes au gratin, bread pudding, strawberries and cookies with several different icing packs for decoration, said Stephanie Schierholz, NASA spokeswoman, in an email.

While Oleg Konenenko of Roscosmos, the Russian Space Agency, had minimal duties on Christmas Day, McClain and David St. Jacques of the Canadian Space Agency, both decked out in Santa hats, were off-duty and posted a video to NASA’s Twitter page.

“It really is a truly unique season to spend up here in the International Space Station,” said McClain in the video. “David and I, and our crewmate Oleg Konenenko from Russia, are very lucky to be up here, because we have a view of the planet (like) no other and the holidays are a time to remember unity and peace. When we look out at the Earth and see a borderless planet, we really are fortunate to have that perspective of Earth.”

The astronauts also celebrated the holiday season with an “Elf on the Shelf,” which was placed in various spots throughout the International Space Station.

McClain, who grew up in Spokane before attending and graduating from West Point, said her memories of Christmas consist of food, celebration and family, adding that the International Space Station had plenty of desserts on board.

“Christmas Dinner is not Christmas dinner if it’s not 50 percent dessert,” she said in the video. “So, we have a variety of cookies and pies.”

Charlotte Lamp, McClain’s mother, chatted with her daughter on Christmas Day via an 82-minute video downlink provided by NASA.

“It was great. She opened a couple of presents from us that got up there and we opened a couple of presents from her,” she said. “It was fun, family time. She took us on a tour of the space station on her laptop, so that was fun.”

Lamp, who still lives in Spokane, said since the crew landed on the International Space Station on Dec. 3, she’s been able to communicate with McClain mostly through email, except for special downlink times.

“I usually send her an email in the morning and evening. She answers when she can and I answer when I can,” she said, noting the eight-hour time difference. “Once in awhile, she calls.”

The Expedition 58 crew recently began work on more than 250 research investigations and technology demonstrations that are not possible to conduct on Earth. Their findings will advance scientific knowledge of space as well as physical and biological sciences, according to NASA.

Lamp said McClain is extremely busy because Expedition 57 astronauts wrapped up their stay aboard the International Space Station on Dec. 19, reducing the crew from six to three members.

The crew is maintaining the space station, conducting experiments and transferring cargo into the Space X Dragon cargo ship that will return to Earth in January with equipment and experiments for analysis.

The International Space Station will return to six crew members in March when the current crew will be joined by NASA astronauts Nick Hague and Christina Koch along with Alexey Ovchinin of Roscosmos.

McClain and crewmates will celebrate New Year’s Eve at approximately 4 p.m. Pacific Standard Time on Dec. 31. The crew will have a full workday scheduled on Jan. 1, consisting mostly of cargo transfers and science operations, Schierholz said.

The crew will receive an extra day off in the future to make up for working on a holiday, Schierholz added.

Lamp said McClain talks about how comfortable it is on the International Space Station and seems to be enjoying the experience.

“I’m really happy to see her happy and feeling like she’s really accomplishing something for the sake of us here on Earth,” said Lamp. “She’s in her element up there doing science, exercising and just living on the space station.”

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