CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. —Space shuttle Atlantis' astronauts thought they were going to give thanks with pantry leftovers Thursday as their mission drew to a close, but found turkey dinners awaiting them.
The meal switch was revealed Thursday morning when a TV interviewer brought up the absence of turkey dinners aboard Atlantis. "That's not going to be on your menu today, is it?" the interviewer asked.
"Shockingly, yes, I think it will be," commander Charles Hobaugh said as some of his crew members grabbed the still unopened pouches of turkey and trimmings, and let them float around.
Hobaugh, a no-nonsense Marine, had made it clear before the 11-day flight that he did not care what he ate on the holiday, be it beef brisket or tofu. He made no special meal requests.
But somehow, smoked and irradiated turkey ended up on Atlantis, along with pouches of candied yams and freeze-dried cornbread stuffing and green beans — just add water and bon appetit.
A NASA spokesman, John Ira Petty, said "the only conceivable thing" that could have happened is that the crew of the International Space Station sneaked the meals into the shuttle before it departed Wednesday.
"Thanksgiving to me has not always been about the food you eat, but the company you keep, and I'm keeping some outstanding company here," Hobaugh said Thursday.
Hobaugh said he can't wait to get home and share a late Thanksgiving meal with his family. "But in the meantime, I've got a great group of friends and I'm really thankful for that," he said.
Weeks, if not months ago, NASA had stocked the space station with turkey dinners and all the trimmings, knowing there would be at least one American in orbit during the U.S. holiday. Jeffrey Williams is the lone U.S. resident, sharing the outpost with two Russians, one Belgian and one Canadian.
Williams — the station's new skipper — was likely responsible for the Thanksgiving surprise.
Hobaugh and his crew spent Thanksgiving getting ready for today's landing. The astronauts checked the flight systems and learned Atlantis was cleared for re-entry, following Wednesday's survey of the wings and nose.
Good landing weather was forecast for the scheduled 8:44 a.m. CST touchdown.