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This is what a birthday party on the space station looks like

A birthday party on the ISS.
Thomas Pesquet

As if staying on the International Space Station (ISS) isn’t cool enough, some astronauts even get to enjoy their birthday there.

With the ISS constantly rotating its crew over the last 20 years, occasional birthdays aboard the orbiting outpost are inevitable, with the most recent one taking place just a couple of days ago.

NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough turned 54 on Friday, June 4, and of course, his six fellow crew members made sure to organize some celebrations for his big day.

birthday on the space station
Top center: NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough during his space-based birthday celebrations on Friday. Thomas Pesquet/ESA

You won’t be surprised to know that a birthday party on the ISS is a little different from one back on terra firma. For starters, alcohol isn’t allowed on the space station, so a celebratory drink is out of the question. And while some folks on Earth might opt for a birthday barbecue, much of the food on the space station is rather less exciting; even cakes made in the traditional way are banished as the crumbs can float off and cause problems with the machinery.

Still, it’s a birthday in space. On the ISS, such an occasion is a chance for crew members to take a break from their work, play some party music on the station’s musical instruments, and make the birthday boy or girl feel a little bit special. And then of course you have the awesome views of Earth and beyond, and, well, how many birthday parties have you been to where you can literally float around the room?

Recent NASA data revealed that up to now, more than 80 birthdays have been celebrated aboard the ISS. With many crew members going on repeated missions to the space station during their careers, some have even enjoyed more than one birthday there. Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka holds the record with four birthdays on the ISS, in 2004, 2009, 2012, and 2015.

And while Padalka has enjoyed multiple birthday bashes aboard the station, NASA astronaut Victor Glover had a stroke of luck recently when his 45th birthday coincided with his very first space trip.

Life continues on the @Space_Station, and @AstroVicGlover had his birthday just before leaving. Merci mon ami for all your help. I was told by @AstroPeggy that birthdays celebrated in space don’t count and I’m sticking to it!

— Thomas Pesquet (@Thom_astro) May 3, 2021

NASA notes on its website that before the ISS went into operation, “dozens more astronauts and cosmonauts celebrated their special day in orbit, mostly aboard Soviet and Russian space stations.”

The first birthday celebrated in space was that of Soviet cosmonaut Viktor Patsayev aboard the Salyut space station in June 1971, while Pete Conrad was the first American to experience a space birthday during a Skylab mission in June 1973.

The first woman to have a birthday away from Earth was NASA astronaut Janet Kavandi, who turned 42 during a space shuttle mission in July 2001. The same birthday was also the first one aboard the ISS. The youngest birthday was 33 and the oldest 60, on the Mir space station and ISS, respectively.

To find out more about life aboard the International Space Station, take a moment to explore this collection of videos made over the years by the astronauts themselves.

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