updated 11/24/2010 11:51:30 AM ET 2010-11-24T16:51:30

Americans on Earth are excited about the holiday of Thanksgiving. Astronauts in space are too, but they'll hold the famous turkey day early because of some holiday travel a trip back to Earth.

The station's three American astronauts will host a space Thanksgiving for their three Russian crewmates today (Nov. 24) a day earlier than the actual holiday to give them one last big meal together before half of the crew returns to Earth Thursday night.

The U.S.-Russian crew will gather together tomorrow in the stations' aptly named Unity module for their Thanksgiving in space. The idea for the early celebration came from NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, who will take command of the station tomorrow, NASA officials told

"I'd like to wish everyone a very happy, happy Thanksgiving," Kelly said in a holiday video message, adding that he and his crewmates were thankful to be on the station. "I'm thankful and I feel privileged that I was born and grew up in a country that could be a major contributor to something as magnificent as the International Space Station."

When it comes to a space Thanksgiving meal, astronauts have traditionally feasted on traditional holiday fare ... but with a NASA twist.

Precooked irradiated smoked turkey stands in for a hot turkey fresh out of the oven. Green beans with mushrooms, candied yams, turkey stuffing, and some sort of fruit cobbler dessert have also been popular space Thanksgiving dishes in the past. [Best Space Food of All Time]

NASA also has a recipe for space cornbread dressing available for the public to try out.

Kelly will be saying farewell to American crewmates Douglas Wheelock and Shannon Walker, as well as cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin, when they depart the space station late Thursday on a Russian Soyuz capsule and land on the steppes of Kazakhstan in Central Asia, where the local time will actually be Friday morning. The trio has been living on the space station since mid-June.

"I'm just thankful to be here and be part of this crew," Wheelock said. "It's been a tremendous experience for us."

It's somewhat unusual for a space station crew to celebrate a U.S. holiday early, but Kelly asked for some time in the schedule because the astronauts and cosmonauts will put in a full day's work Thursday when most Americans are sitting down to a traditional Thanksgiving meal.

"It's not the normal approach," NASA spokesperson Nicole Cloutier-Lemasters said. "I think they're doing it in this case to accommodate the Soyuz landing."

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Wheelock, Walker and Yurchikhin plan to undock their Soyuz spacecraft from the space station at 8:22 p.m. EST (0122 GMT) Thursday Thanksgiving night in the United States ahead of a planned 11:46 p.m. EST (0446 Nov. 25 GMT) landing in Kazakhstan.

After landing, the returning station crew will be retrieved by a recovery team and flown to Kustanai, Kazakhstan. From there, Yurchikhin will return to Russia's Federal Space Agency headquarters in Moscow while Wheelock and Walker return to NASA's astronaut headquarters at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Wheelock and Walker should return home to the United States on Friday, Cloutier-Lemasters said.

But astronauts won't have to wait until their Houston arrival to taste their Thanksgiving turkey.

"Some Thanksgiving food will be on the NASA plane for them to eat en route home," NASA spokesman Rob Navias told in an e-mail.

Reach managing editor Tariq Malik at Follow him on Twitter @tariqjmalik.

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Photos: Month in Space: January 2014

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  1. Southern stargazing

    Stars, galaxies and nebulas dot the skies over the European Southern Observatory's La Silla Paranal Observatory in Chile, in a picture released on Jan. 7. This image also shows three of the four movable units that feed light into the Very Large Telescope Interferometer, the world's most advanced optical instrument. Combining to form one larger telescope, they are greater than the sum of their parts: They reveal details that would otherwise be visible only through a telescope as large as the distance between them. (Y. Beletsky / ESO) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A balloon's view

    Cameras captured the Grandville High School RoboDawgs' balloon floating through Earth's upper atmosphere during its ascent on Dec. 28, 2013. The Grandville RoboDawgs’ first winter balloon launch reached an estimated altitude of 130,000 feet, or about 25 miles, according to coaches Mike Evele and Doug Hepfer. It skyrocketed past the team’s previous 100,000-feet record set in June. The RoboDawgs started with just one robotics team in 1998, but they've grown to support more than 30 teams at public schools in Grandville, Mich. (Kyle Moroney / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Spacemen at work

    Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kotov, right, and Sergey Ryazanskiy perform maintenance on the International Space Station on Jan. 27. During the six-hour, eight-minute spacewalk, Kotov and Ryazanskiy completed the installation of a pair of high-fidelity cameras that experienced connectivity issues during a Dec. 27 spacewalk. The cosmonauts also retrieved scientific gear outside the station's Russian segment. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Special delivery

    The International Space Station's Canadian-built robotic arm moves toward Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Cygnus autonomous cargo craft as it approaches the station for a Jan. 12 delivery. The mountains below are the southwestern Alps. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Accidental art

    A piece of art? A time-lapse photo? A flickering light show? At first glance, this image looks nothing like the images we're used to seeing from the Hubble Space Telescope. But it's a genuine Hubble frame that was released on Jan. 27. Hubble's team suspects that the telescope's Fine Guidance System locked onto a bad guide star, potentially a double star or binary. This caused an error in the tracking system, resulting in a remarkable picture of brightly colored stellar streaks. The prominent red streaks are from stars in the globular cluster NGC 288. (NASA / ESA) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Supersonic test flight

    A camera looking back over Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo's fuselage shows the rocket burn with a Mojave Desert vista in the background during a test flight of the rocket plane on Jan. 10. Cameras were mounted on the exterior of SpaceShipTwo as well as its carrier airplane, WhiteKnightTwo, to monitor the rocket engine's performance. The test was aimed at setting the stage for honest-to-goodness flights into outer space later this year, and eventual commercial space tours.

    More about SpaceShipTwo on PhotoBlog (Virgin Galactic) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Red lagoon

    The VLT Survey Telescope at the European Southern Observatory's Paranal Observatory in Chile captured this richly detailed new image of the Lagoon Nebula, released on Jan. 22. This giant cloud of gas and dust is creating intensely bright young stars, and is home to young stellar clusters. This image is a tiny part of just one of 11 public surveys of the sky now in progress using ESO telescopes. (ESO/VPHAS team) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Fire on the mountain

    This image provided by NASA shows a satellite view of smoke from the Colby Fire, taken by the Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer aboard NASA's Terra spacecraft as it passed over Southern California on Jan. 16. The fire burned more than 1,863 acres and forced the evacuation of 3,700 people. (NASA via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Where stars are born

    An image captured by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows the Orion Nebula, an immense stellar nursery some 1,500 light-years away. This false-color infrared view, released on Jan. 15, spans about 40 light-years across the region. The brightest portion of the nebula is centered on Orion's young, massive, hot stars, known as the Trapezium Cluster. But Spitzer also can detect stars still in the process of formation, seen here in red hues. (NASA / JPL-Caltech) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Cygnus takes flight

    Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Antares rocket rises from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va, on Jan. 9. The rocket sent Orbital's Cygnus cargo capsule on its first official resupply mission to the International Space Station. (Chris Perry / NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A long, long time ago...

    This long-exposure picture from the Hubble Space Telescope, released Jan. 8, is the deepest image ever made of any cluster of galaxies. The cluster known as Abell 2744 appears in the foreground. It contains several hundred galaxies as they looked 3.5 billion years ago. Abell 2744 acts as a gravitational lens to warp space, brightening and magnifying images of nearly 3,000 distant background galaxies. The more distant galaxies appear as they did more than 12 billion years ago, not long after the Big Bang. (NASA / NASA via AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Frosty halo

    Sun dogs are bright spots that appear in the sky around the sun when light is refracted through ice crystals in the atmosphere. These sun dogs appeared on Jan. 5 amid brutally cold temperatures along Highway 83, north of Bismarck, N.D. The temperature was about 22 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, with a 50-below-zero wind chill.

    Slideshow: The Year in Space (Brian Peterson / The Bismarck Tribune via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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