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No Turkey for Shuttle Atlantis Crew

CAPE CANAVERAL - Atlantis astronauts have a slightly less appetizing name for Thanksgiving dinner this year: Flight Day 11 Meal C.

"It could be beef brisket, it could be tofu, it doesn't matter to me," shuttle skipper Charles Hobaugh said before Atlantis launched Nov. 16. "We're going to enjoy ourselves no matter what we do."

Atlantis departs the International Space Station today to begin a two-day journey home, after a week-long visit to deliver spare parts and perform maintenance during three spacewalks. It will be the seventh time and second straight year that a shuttle crew spends the holiday in space.

The seven crewmembers will dine in orbit instead of at home with family because of a late change in the mission's launch date. By then, it was too late to adjust menus to add traditional Thanksgiving fare.

Thursday's planned "Meal C" items range from barbecue beef brisket and vegetarian chili to seafood gumbo and lasagna.

Hobaugh said Tuesday that a lack of turkey wouldn't spoil Turkey Day. "Thanksgiving isn't all about what you eat, it's the people you spend it with," the 48-year-old Marine colonel said during a news conference.

The five people remaining on the space station, including American Jeff Williams, eat from a multinational menu rotation that regularly includes turkey, candied yams, cornbread stuffing and cranberry-apple dessert.

Although NASA says it has made great strides producing tasty food, it's difficult to replicate the home-cooked experience.

"Hot air doesn't rise in micro-gravity," said Michele Perchonok, the shuttle food system manager at Johnson Space Center in Houston. "It could be going to your feet. So those nice aromas won't necessarily make it to your nose."

Nevertheless, mission specialist Bobby Satcher saw parallels between the space travelers and the Pilgrims.

"I'm sure the Pilgrims didn't even know what outer space was," he said earlier in the mission. "But . . . we are explorers just as they were."

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