WASHINGTON — Space will serve up a banquet of activities on Thanksgiving, featuring a comet kissing the sun, a zero-gravity freeze-dried feast in orbit and a rocket launch attempt:
Comet ISON, which was discovered a year ago, is making its first spin around the sun and will come the closest to the super-hot solar surface at 1:37 p.m. EST. It may take a few hours before astronomers know if the comet survived its brush with the sun. If it survives, and maybe even if it doesn’t, people in the Northern Hemisphere will have a good chance of seeing the comet — or its remains — in the first two weeks of December just before sunrise and after sunset. It won’t be visible with the naked eye on Thursday, but NASA has a fleet of telescopes trained on ISON.
For the six people on board the International Space Station — including American astronauts Mike Hopkins and Rick Mastracchio — it’s time for a traditional Thanksgiving feast. But don’t expect them to be carving a succulent bird. In a video from space, the two astronauts showed off their menu, all in small sealed packets: irradiated smoked turkey, thermostabilized yams, cornbread dressing, potatoes, freeze-dried asparagus, baked beans, bread, cobbler and what Hopkins called his favorite dehydrated green bean casserole. It comes with a view from space that is juicier than any turkey on Earth. “Though we miss our families, it’s great to be in space,” Hopkins said from 260 miles above Earth in a taped message.
Residents of Florida’s Space Coast may get to see a rocket thunder through the sky around dinner time if all goes well. Private firm SpaceX of Hawthorne, Calif., will try again to launch its Falcon-9 rocket between 5:38 p.m. and 6:44 p.m. EST from Cape Canaveral Air Station. The large rocket didn’t launch in a first attempt Monday because of a technical glitch. The rocket is carrying a 7,055-pound telecommunications satellite for a Luxembourg firm. This is part of a growing trend of newer rocket firms — SpaceX is headed by PayPal founder Elon Musk — launching more and signing up non-government customers, said Harvard astronomer Jonathan McDowell, who catalogues launches worldwide. Thanksgiving and November are often a quiet time for space, but not this year, he said. It will be the first Cape Canaveral launch attempt on Thanksgiving since 1959 — that one failed when the rocket exploded seconds after liftoff, according to McDowell.