- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 22, 2005

An automated Russian Progress spacecraft is scheduled to arrive at the International Space Station today, bringing the usual cargo — and a little Christmas cheer — to the two-man crew stationed there.

Presents and a holiday meal are being delivered to retired U.S. Army Col. Bill McArthur and Russian Valeri Tokarev. The men transmitted a video requesting the foods they selected for Christmas.

“For Thanksgiving we had a U.S. food theme, so we decided that we would eat a little more traditional Russian food at this time of year,” Col. McArthur said.

Menu selections include borscht, a can of beef with a vegetable garnish, Russian rye bread, canned pike perch in tomato sauce, assorted vegetables and tea. One American item — corn — also is available. Dessert will include spiced apples and apricot cobbler.

“We anticipate eating quite well this holiday season,” Col. McArthur said.

Despite the meal and the promise of presents, the holidays always are tough when far from home, especially when far means orbiting hundreds of miles above the Earth at a speed of about 17,500 mph.

“[Its] probably the hardest time in the mission to go through,” Col. McArthur said. “For my family, this is the most important time of the year for us to gather together. … But the job we’re doing here I think is so important to mankind, [so] it seems like a small sacrifice to pay.”

Col. McArthur said he and his crew mate are like brothers, and that “helps a lot.”

The space station also has highly advanced communications capabilities, even a digital telephone that can be used to call anyone in the world. NASA also is making arrangements for a private video phone call for Col. McArthur with wife Cynthia and daughters Kate and Meg.

On Christmas Day, Col. McArthur said, he will open presents and relax.

“It’s a non-work day for us. We’ll take advantage of the free time we have and look out the window and just marvel as we always do at how beautiful the Earth is as it slides by beneath us.”

The space travelers will get to celebrate Christmas twice. Russians celebrate Christmas on Jan. 7.

“We’ll observe the European-American Christmas, then New Year’s, and following that, we’ll observe the Russian Orthodox Church’s Christmas,” Col. McArthur said.

New Year’s Day marks the halfway point for the men’s six-month mission. They return April 1.

“Unfortunately, we’re not going to be able to watch any ball games on New Year’s Day, which is quite the tradition in my household, but we’ll be able to watch the greatest spectacle of all, and that’s our beautiful planet passing beneath us,” Col. McArthur said.

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