Last Christmas Eve, Astronaut Cathy Clarke heard Mission Control playing Jingle Bells over the intercom about 200 times. They had turned down her request for a Christmas tree because ?the pine needles would just float around and poke you in the eye. It?s a safety issue.?

Then she floated into the tiny Space Station kitchen and was surprised to see an 8-ft tree crammed inside, its top bent against the low ceiling, with a stack of presents, floating ornaments and tinsel sticking straight out, as if it had been electrified. There were cookie crumbs and little droplets of milk floating everywhere. Taped to the food-warmer was a note, from Santa.?Dear Cathy,?Sorry for the mess. Ho, ho! But this was my first experience with microgravity. I knew you would be homesick this year so I brought you and the crew a few things for Christmas.?I must say, though, you could have made it a bit easier to get in. Didn?t you know I was coming? There?s no handle on the outside of the airlock. I had to squeeze in through the vacuum vent — tree, presents, and all!?We popped out of a very unusual fireplace — like a little furnace. It smelled awful! Good thing the reindeer waited outside. Comet was already feeling queasy from the weightlessness. (Poor deer, now the others call him ?Vomit Comet.? I reminded them it?s Christmas, but they just shouted out with glee — especially Rudolph.)?By the way, you might want to check your solar panels. That’s where I landed the sleigh and they gave us a nasty shock. You should have seen Rudolph?s nose light up!?Speaking of lights, the ones on the tree won?t work. It looks like the DC power on the space station isn?t the same as AC electricity in Earth homes — next time I?ll bring a voltage converter.?Ho, ho! I?ve seen plenty of trees in my time, but nothing like this one. The ornaments don?t hang down as they should. I?m not even sure where ?down? is…. And the tinsel sticks out in all directions. (Watch out for the pine needles. too. They float around and poke you in the eye. Ho, ho!)?You?ll find a bag of Mrs. Claus’s Christmas cookies duct-taped to the counter. I couldn?t resist having one myself. But the crumbs … oh my, they floated everywhere!?You must be wondering about the milk. I needed some to go with the cookie, of course. Fortunately, I never go anywhere without my thermos; Mrs. Claus insists.?All I can say is this: never unscrew a thermos of warm milk in microgravity. At first it wouldn?t pour at all. Then, when I shook it, milk droplets flew everywhere. Ho, ho, what a mess!?I knew then it was time to go. After all, I have to visit another billion or so homes before sunrise. Although, I must say, your home tops them all.?I plan to tour the station on my way out. What a splendid facility! I intend to try that Canadian robotic arm before I leave, too. (Do you really control it with a joystick? Amazing!) I can?t wait to see the expression on Donner?s snout when I grapple his flank. Ho, ho, ho!?Have a jolly day, dear. And just remember … the Christmas spirit is in the space station, too.?Sincerely yours, Santa?PS. I noticed your immune system experiment in the lab. Astonishing what we can learn in space! Mrs. Claus is always sneezing and snuffling with some virus or bacteria at the North Pole. She?ll be so glad to know you?re making progress.?Wonder if Santa will visit the International Space Station this year? Guess it depends on whether the astronauts have been naughty or nice.

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