In collaboration with le Parisien Magazine / Aujourd’hui-en-France Magazine
A few weeks ago, I spent the holidays away from my family for the first time in my life. It was strange because in the Pesquet household, Christmas and New Year’s are important. This is the one and only opportunity in the year where we all try to meet to share a moment together. When I was a child, the rallying point was my grandparents’ farm. With my 21 cousins, we painted the town red. I remember epic snowball battles. Sometimes we did a little ice-skating on a frozen lake. Of course it was forbidden, but we did not care: it was only once a year. So yes, although I loved spending the holidays aboard the International Space Station, it wasn’t the same.
The hardest part for me was not being able to hold my family or partner in my arms. I managed to reach them by phone and videoconference to tell them I missed them, that I thought about them every day. But it was not the same. It is difficult to get into the holiday spirit in space. It is a bit like going to a warm, sunny place in December for someone raised in the Northern hemisphere, it is disorienting. Here, there is no snow, it is not cold, we are not really on a holiday and we cannot go to bed late because of work. And… there is no champagne. Alcohol is banned on the Space Station because we must be on high alert at all times in case of an emergency. I admit that it is hard get into the mood with orange juice and tea.
But despite all of that, together with my colleagues, we tried to make our celebrations unforgettable. It is important for morale to have a few moments of relaxation, to have a break from the daily routine. So, like children again the crew and I went looking for decorations, we had heard of a little Christmas tree that was hidden somewhere in the corners of the Station. Unfortunately, we did not find it! So you know what we did? We hung up our socks in the hope that Santa might fill them with gifts. We also found a few pointy-hats with white pompoms and a CD with Christmas songs. So the celebrations could begin. On 24 December at 16:00, my colleagues and I started a cookie-decorating contest using American-style icing. I am not going to lie, mine was not great. It was a good thing I chose to be an astronaut rather than an artist. But at least we all laughed a lot in the process. Especially because Peggy Whitson and Shane Kimbrough decided to show us a famous Christmas comedy from the United States called Christmas Vacation at the same time.
In the evening we prepared a real feast. Between Peggy’s sweet-potato puree and the small French dishes I brought from star chef Alain Ducasse, we really treated ourselves. The evening continued with opening the small gifts we had brought for each another. I had brought chocolates and Christmas ornaments that my partner Anne had customised for each of my colleagues. Finally, we spent Christmas eve in front of the last Star Wars movie. I know, it is a bit of a cliché for six astronauts to watch Star Wars…
The next day we did not do anything too crazy either! NASA did give me a great gift. Knowing that I am a big basketball fan, they broadcasted the championship matches that took place that afternoon almost-live. I could not have been happier!
New Year’s eve was quite similar. Good food, games and movies. We did not have fireworks and could not watch the ball drop in Times Square to shout 5,4,3,2,1.. 0! But it does not matter. Even during the holidays, I do not forget that I am on a mission, and that my time up here is limited. The important thing is to concentrate on my tasks and use whatever time off we have to rest. There are quite a few months to go and lots of work to do. Not least, yesterday’s spacewalk!