The peril of “normal” Christmas activities in space


By Harriet Constable

Undefeated by your unconventional-looking tree, you remain determined to keep in a festive mood. Your next thought is, of course, “I could really go for a glass of bubbly right now.”

Well firstly – no. You can’t have one. Astronauts are widely prohibited from drinking any alcohol while in space. Shame on you for even thinking of it.

But then again you have just been teleported here, and have no astronaut duties. Or what if you opted for an alcohol-free alternative to champagne? Like lemonade. Surely a glass of lemonade would be OK?

Well it’s bad news again folks because, according to Nasa, bubbles don’t do well in space. “A foamy mess” – that’s how they describe trying to drink carbonated drinks, from champagne to cola, while the station races around the Earth. “The bubbles of carbon dioxide in carbonated beverages aren’t buoyant in a weightless environment, so they remain randomly distributed throughout the fluid, even after swallowing,” says Nasa. The whole thing is actually rather unpleasant, especially given the fact that, with the absence of gravity, the carbon dioxide bubbles in the drinks go through the digestive system, rather than being burped out as on Earth.

Even if you were allowed a glass of champagne, there’s the whole issue of actually getting it out of the bottle because, as Wired reports, “you cannot pour a liquid in zero-g”. One option is to drink it through a straw, but as I write this, I believe Dom Pérignon, a French monk who helped pave the way for sparkling champagne to become mainstream, just rolled over in his grave.

It might not always be this way. Companies are at work to pop the bubble-in-space issue in as we speak – with solutions including twin-chambered bottles. But for now you’ll have to return to your weightless wandering without a festive glass of fizz.


By Richard Gray

Most of us probably know someone whose gifts look as if they might have been wrapped while in orbit. Without the tether of gravity, all but the tautest wrapping paper will bob shapelessly around the present inside, while lengths of sticky tape will flap into an unruly tangle once torn from the roll.

Nasa has some strict rules about how many personal items astronauts are allowed to carry with them into space. Crews are usually limited to just 3.3 lbs (1.5kg) of personal kit when they travel to the ISS, but they sometimes get additional items in re-supply missions.

Launching anything into orbit is expensive though – until recently it cost around $18,500 (£13,900) per kg (and when the space shuttle was operational the cost was $54,500 [£41,000] per kg). More recently Nasa has been able to use commercial spacecraft such as Space X’s Falcon 9 and Dragon capsule, which allows items to be launched at a cost of $23,330 (£17,500) per kg, but the amount of space available for gifts among the research experiments and hardware sent to the ISS is small. However, Nasa tries to squeeze in a special delivery shortly before Christmas.

“A lot of times it has to be something small,” says Hopkins. “So it’ll be just a card, something of that nature. But folks here on the ground, support personnel, also do a great job reaching out to your family members and trying to find ways to get some special things up to you for the holidays.”

But in your chance teleportation, you and all your festive paraphernalia managed to get to the station with little to no budget at all. So how will your wrapping go?

Surprisingly there isn’t much research on the mechanics of gift wrapping in microgravity. (Although Nasa engineers use origami techniques when designing the folding solar arrays and shields on spacecraft.) Nasa prefers plastic bags and white fabric duffle bags for any of the goods it transports to and from the ISS.

Although the natural stiffness of paper might mean it will remain in the shape when folded, without gravity keeping the gift and paper together in the early stages of wrapping there might be an extra dimension of difficulty. If what happens to a cloth when it is crumpled on the space station is anything to go by, folded paper won’t behave exactly as it does on Earth either.

Sticky tape – which is widely used on the space station to hold things down, perform quick fixes and even seal air leaks – also wafts around, as in this video with Nasa flight engineer Cady Coleman, and curls strangely without the tug of gravity. Until recently, the ISS crew usually kept their rolls of tape in place by sticking them to surfaces inside the space station. In 2021, however, they received a new tape dispenser specially designed for use on the ISS that can be used one-handed and would doubtless make wrapping any gifts easier.

Fortunately, according to some studies, a poorly wrapped gift isn’t anything to worry about – it might actually make the recipient all the more grateful for what is inside.

Roast dinners

By Isabelle Gerretsen

After all your hard work with the tree and oddly shaped presents now strapped around its base, you have worked up quite an appetite. But, if past Christmases on the ISS are anything to go by, a traditional dinner is unlikely to look like anything you’re used to on Earth.

Elaborate dinners in space are a bit of a challenge, to say the least, but that doesn’t stop astronauts from celebrating during special holidays. Hopkins has spent two Christmases on the ISS and says both times the food was “excellent.”


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