Astronauts Ring In New Year With Some Time Off

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While many people on Earth will spend the last hours of 2010 bouncing from party to party, New Year's Eve should be a relatively subdued affair for the astronauts aboard the International Space Station.

The six spaceflyers three Russians, two Americans and an Italian will have today (Dec. 31) off work, NASA officials said. Saturday and Sunday will be light as well, with just some routine housekeeping chores planned. During this time, the astronauts will get a chance to talk to their families back home, and recharge their batteries in preparation for a busy 2011.

The crewmembers will undoubtedly spend a fair bit of the down time gazing at Earth from the station's Cupola module, which is studded with windows.

"Most nights, I would say, after work we go there," NASA astronaut Cady Coleman said in a video interview with reporters on Thursday (Dec. 30). " Looking down at Earth is simply amazing, and I'm not sure I will ever, ever get tired of it."

Coleman, who arrived at the space station on Dec. 17, said she also plans to devote some time to practicing her flute, which she has largely neglected up to this point.

"It's just so busy, just learning how to work up here and making sure that you're getting all your work done. I haven't been able to break my flute out yet," Coleman said. "I'm hoping to do that this weekend."

Today's holiday is the second in quick succession for the crewmembers, who also got Christmas Day off. The international group of spaceflyers celebrated Christmas with a "family dinner" and a few presents, astronauts said.

"The Russians actually gave us as a gift some little chocolates, so we had plenty of things to celebrate," Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli, who also reached the station on Dec. 17, said.

Coming up next week, half of the crew will celebrate another Christmas holiday. The Russian Orthodox Church celebrates Christmas according to the Julian calendar, marking the event on Jan. 7 rather than Dec. 25. So, the three cosmonauts aboard the station will have another off-duty day then.

But Coleman, Nespoli and American Scott Kelly commander of the current crew won't get two Christmas holidays. Instead, they'll be working on Jan. 7, NASA spokeswoman Nicole Cloutier-Lemasters, of Johnson Space Center in Houston, told

To commemorate the New Year, NASA released a free 2011 calendar featuring the International Space Station, which can be downloaded on the agency's website.

You can follow senior writer Mike Wall on Twitter: @michaeldwall