The six-member crew aboard the International Space station, or ISS, will be tuning in live to the Super Bowl this year for the first time in history, thanks to the miracles of modern technology.
Only two of the crew members are American—commander Kevin Ford and flight engineer Tom Marshburn—but Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield and Russian cosmonauts Evgeny Tarelkin, Oleg Novitskiy and Roman Romanenko also expressed a desire to watch the San Francisco 49ers duke it out with the Baltimore Ravens in New Orleans’ Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
NASA plans to beam a live feed of Super Bowl XLVII from the Johnson Space Center in Houston, up to the ultimate nose-bleed seats approximately 260 miles above the Earth’s surface. Sources have yet to reveal how history’s highest-elevation SuperBowl party will enjoy the big game, though nachos and buffalo wings are probably not on the freeze dried menu.
It is not out of the question that the cosmonauts aboard the ISS may crack open a fresh beer to enjoy the game, as the station does permit alcoholic beverages to be enjoyed responsibly from time. The international crew regularly rings in the New Year with a proper champagne toast, and breaks out cognac for special occasions, partially to relieve nerves in what can be a stressful environment.
Last year the ISS actually played host to the first zero-gravity whiskey distillery, reserving a research bay for Scotland’s Ardberg Distillery, who launched malt, oak, and other ingredients to the station in order to study how the unique conditions of orbit affected the molecular process involved in distilling whiskey.
Parallels between life aboard the ISS and SuperBowl traditions don’t end with consuming alcohol, either. The Space Station is approximately the same size as a regulation football field, from one end of its sprawling solar array to the other.
This year, even Super Bowl advertisers seem to be turning their attentions to the stars. AXE personal care products will announce the winner of its AXE Apollo Space Academy contest just after the game, the first of 22 lucky finalists to be sent into orbit courtesy of the firm’s publicity-garnering partnership with XCOR Aerospace and space tourism company Space Expedition Curacao. Meanwhile, Korean car company Kia has released an online preview of its new Space Babies commercial, which it will run during the game itself for an almost $4 million 30-second spot.
Watching the 49ers face the Ravens alongside a projected 111 million Earth-bound viewers at 6:30pm EST Sunday night will probably come as a welcome break from work for the ISS astronauts, as well as a nostalgic reminder of everyday life on the planet’s surface. The Expedition 34 team currently aboard the station has been living in space since launching on December 19, 2012, and will not return to Earth until March 2013.
Astronaut crews typically rotate in shifts of weeks to months aboard the ISS, though at least one human is always within the station. Separate crews’ stays have now combined to set an unprecedented record of 12 consecutive years of continuous human habitation in space, surpassing the previous 10-year record held by the Russian Mir station. Russian cosmonaut Valeri Polyakov still holds the record for longest continuous time spent in orbit on a single trip, living on board the Mir station for 437.7 consecutive days between 1994 and 1995.
The purpose of the ISS, along with its predecessors Mir, NASA’s Skylab, and the Almaz and Salyut series, has been to test the effects of long-term space flight on the human body and psyche, along with a variety of scientific experiments in zero-gravity. Beaming a live stream of the Super Bowl to the station’s inhabitants is a relatively novel undertaking following on the heels of 2012 transmissions of the Olympic Games in London, all made possible by modern advances in communications technology.
While it is entertaining to imagine a mixed crew of Americans, Canadians, and Russians cheering for their chosen team’s touchdowns in a low earth orbit Super Bowl party, the news also offers a glimpse into the possible future. If or when humanity establishes self-sustaining, long-term colonies in space, it will become increasingly important to offer the same kind of amenities and creature comforts we currently enjoy on Earth’s surface. Catching the action of the Super Bowl a few extra milliseconds after the rest of the planet quietly represents an exciting first step in that direction.