Earth-bound Americans celebrate their independence today, just as we north of the border did earlier this week; remembering the history of exploration that helped make us the nations we are today.
Astronauts on the International Space Station are enjoying a day off today — or as much of a day off as you can get when there are still critical systems that need to be monitored. However, no other work is scheduled for the American crew members or their Russian and Italian counterparts, as July 4th is one of the holidays selected for the entire crew.
Since they're a big part of Canada Day and Fourth of July celebrations down here, you might wonder what would happen if you set off fireworks in space. Interestingly enough, according to Popular Science, they'd launch just fine. The chemicals that launch fireworks include an oxidizer and reductant — not unlike the mixture we use to maneuver rockets.
Unfortunately, the spectacular coloured explosions you get here on Earth wouldn't work out as well. As the PopSci article reports: "The reaction that imparts a rocket's metals and metal salts with enough energy to change pretty colors requires oxygen. Unless your fireworks were specially designed for bursting in space, their colors would quickly fizzle out."
Add space-based fireworks to the list of things to do before we leave the planet.
Because the crew is made up of a variety of nationalities, it obviously isn't possible to officially recognize every holiday on the ISS and still get any work done. Instead, an allotment of about 8 designated holidays per year are shared amongst the group. Writing in 2009, then-commander of the ISS Jeff Williams said that, "most of the holidays belong to one nationality represented on the crew and the traditions are shared with the other crew members." Last month, for instance, Russian crew members observed Russia Day on June 12. On these selected holidays, astronauts have the opportunity to chat with and see family members back home via video conference.
Generally speaking, those on board the ISS have access to a mixture of American and Russian food, with a smattering of dishes from other countries represented on board, including Japanese, European and Canadian delights. Last November, the crew celebrated Thanksgiving with some traditional American favorites with a bit of Russian flair.
Major international holidays, like Christmas and New Year's Day, present a special opportunity for the astronauts to share a celebration they're all familiar with.
The first people to spend Christmas in space was the crew of the Apollo 8 mission to the Moon — Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and William Anders. They entered lunar orbit on December 24th, 1968, and sent images and a radio transmission, wishing everyone back on Earth a Merry Christmas.
Five years later, another crew spent Christmas in space, aboard Skylab 4. Commander Gerald Carr, Pilot William Pogue and Scientist Edward Gibson even rigged up their own from used food cans.
Cosmonauts aboard the space station Mir and the astronauts on various space shuttle missions throughout the years have also celebrated Christmas and other holidays in orbit, and now that there is a permanent human presence in space, aboard the International Space Station, it happens all the time.
For Christmas 2012, a Santa-hatted crew listened while Commander Hadfield strummed his guitar next to a space Santa, Christmas tree and stockings.
The crew members sent their best wishes from space for New Year's Day, plus Commander Hadfield sang Danny Boy to celebrate St. Patrick's Day and he even hid chocolate-filled Easter eggs for his crew on Easter Sunday.
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So, although we may not have space fireworks to celebrate (yet), the kind of exploration that helped build the countries we're celebrating this week will one day take us to other planets. While we can only speculate which celebrations will make the trek with us, there's already a taste of holidays in zero-g orbiting above us.
(Photos courtesy: Getty, NASA)
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