Image: Elf on the ISS

December 19, 2018, European Space Agency
Credit: ESA/NASA

There is no escaping the holidays, even in space.

Though the crew celebrate together on the International Space Station, it is still hard to be away from family during festive times. Astronauts are encouraged to bring along items to make their time more comfortable and homely.

One such item, the famous elf of the popular children's book Elf on the Shelf, accompanied NASA astronaut Anne McClain to the International Space Station.

The popular tradition of Elf on the Shelf involves placing the elf in a different spot in the home every day in the lead up to Christmas.

In this image tweeted by Anne from her home for the next six months, the elf poses next to MELFI, the Minus Eighty Lab Freezer for ISS.

Built by ESA and transferred to NASA and JAXA, MELFI is a versatile storage . The four compartments can be set at different temperatures ranging from −98 °C to +4 °C to preserve such as blood and urine that will be returned to Earth.

Building a freezer that can reach such while meeting other standards for operation on board the Space Station was not an easy feat. The facility must be reliable and easy to maintain, energy efficient, quiet, and have little effect on the Space Station's microgravity environment.

A closed thermodynamic loop using and a Brayton Machine rotating at over 90,000 revolutions per minute was selected to meet these requirements.

Nitrogen gas is an ideal cooling agent as it abundant, odourless, and nonreactive. In the closed system, nitrogen gas is compressed, cooled, and expanded through tubes surrounding the compartments. It exchanges heat with everything it comes into contact with, which accelerates the cooling.

But just how cold is −98 °C? According to Anne, "those are cold temperatures – colder than the North Pole."

Watch this video of ESA astronaut Tim Peake working with the MELFI freezers during his Principia mission in 2016.

There are 3 MELFIs on the International Space Station that were launched in 2006, 2009 and 2010, so MELFI has been in operation on the Space for 12 years now, surpassing its expected 10-year service life.

Explore further: Three astronauts blast off to International Space Station

Related Stories

Image: The frozen wild Dnieper River

November 9, 2018

Curling snow drifts are magnified by the terrain around the 1,400 mile Dnieper River, flowing from Russia to the Black Sea.

Video: Vita docking

July 31, 2017

Replay of the docking of the Soyuz MS-05 spacecraft to the International Space Station with ESA astronaut Paolo Nespoli, NASA astronaut Randy Bresnik and Roscosmos commander Sergey Ryazansky. The astronauts were launched ...

Image: A closer view of the moon

July 10, 2018

Posted to Twitter by @Astro_Alex, European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst, this image shows our planet's Moon as seen from the International Space Station. As he said in the tweet, "By orbiting the Earth almost 16 ...

Recommended for you

Birth of massive black holes in the early universe revealed

January 23, 2019

The light released from around the first massive black holes in the universe is so intense that it is able to reach telescopes across the entire expanse of the universe. Incredibly, the light from the most distant black holes ...

Astronomers discover an unusual nuclear transient

January 23, 2019

An international group of astronomers has detected an unusual nuclear transient in the nucleus of a weakly active galaxy. The new transient was identified by the OGLE-IV Transient Detection System and received designation ...

Scientist sheds light on Titan's mysterious atmosphere

January 23, 2019

A new Southwest Research Institute study tackles one of the greatest mysteries about Titan, one of Saturn's moons: the origin of its thick, nitrogen-rich atmosphere. The study posits that one key to Titan's mysterious atmosphere ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.