The bread that welcomed NASA astronaut Scott Kelly back on earth

Space Business
Space Business

After 340 days subsisting on freeze dried powders from “on-orbit” space pouches, NASA astronaut Scott Kelly’s first sight of earthly prepared food was a Kazakh traditional offering of bread and salt.

Kelly and Russian cosmonauts Mikhail Kornienko and Sergey Volkov touched ground near the town of Zhezkazgan in eastern Kazhakstan at 11:26 pm EST last night (Mar. 1). The welcome ceremony began with two women dressed in bright yellow and green, who presented the homecoming heroes with bread and salt.

“It’s an honor to participate in this event, but first let me welcome you with bread and salt. This is our custom,” said a dignitary, unnamed in the NASA TV broadcast, who welcomed them in a brief ceremony at Zhezkazgan Airport. The astronauts were also presented with tribute matryoshka dolls in their likeness.

The generously sized welcome bread, at times elaborately decorated and glazed, is a staple of astronaut welcoming ceremonies in Kazakhstan, where vast unforested grasslands have served as a landing pad for space travelers of many nationalities over the years. The bread is usually presented with a small ramekin of salt in the middle and served on an embroidered towel. It’s tradition to dip a piece of bread in the salt and eat it, but Kelly, Kornienko and Volkov seem to have skipped that part in the ceremony. Their stomachs were still too unsettled to partake, as Time explains.

France's first woman in space Claudie Andre-Deshays (L) smiles as she takes traditional bread-and-salt with her Russian Cosmonauts Yuri Onufrienko and Yuri Usachev in the Kazakh city of Karaganda on September 2. Andre-Deshays spent 16 days aboard orbiting Mir station carring out biological and medical experiments. - RTXGJDC
France’s first woman in space Claudie Andre-Deshays, 1986. (Reuters)

Bread symbolizes hospitality, and salt signifies friendship, in several Slavic cultures. “The bread and salt tradition is common for Russians and Ukrainians,” Aisha Mukasheva of the Kazakhstan embassy in Washington, DC tells Quartz. “You might be surprised why this Slavic tradition is used among Kazakh people,” she adds, explaining that people of Russian descent account for a large proportion of Kazakhstan’s population.

Russian cosmonaut Valery Polyakov , who broke the space endurance record, smiles as he is presented with traditional bread and salt during a welcoming ceremony in Star City near Moscow April 11. Polyakov and his colleagues Yelena Kondakova and Alexander Viktorenko,   were officialy welcomed after a rehabilitation period which was mandatory following his 438 days in space - RTXG49Y
Valery Polyakov, 1995 (Reuters)
France's  cosmonaut Leopold Eyharts receives a traditional Bread-and-Salt from a girl dressed in Kazakh costume February 19. Two Russians, a Frenchman and his six salamanders landed softly in the snows of the Kazakh steppe on Thursday, leaving the stuffy confines of the Mir space station for the bitter cold of earth. - RTXIJAT
France’s Leopold Eyharts receives a traditional Bread-and-Salt greeting. (Reuters)
U.S. astronaut Tom Marshburn (L), Russian cosmonaut Roman Romanenko (C) and Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, who returned from International Space Station (ISS) on May 14, taste bread and salt during a traditional welcoming ceremony in Star City outside Moscow, June 7, 2013. REUTERS/Sergei Remezov (RUSSIA - Tags: SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY TRANSPORT) - RTX10ETM
U.S. astronaut Tom Marshburn, Russian cosmonaut Roman Romanenko and Canadian Hadfield break bread, 2013. (Reuters/Sergei Remezov)

Russian cosmonauts have also brought this tradition to outer space. Several bread-and-salt welcome parties took place in Russia’s Mir space station, which orbited the earth from 1986 to 2001.

US astronaut Shannon Lucid (L), who has been aboard the Russian Mir space station for some 180 days, presents bread and salt, a traditional Russian gesture, to the astronauts entering Mir from the recently arrived U.S. space shuttle Atlantis, September 19. Lucid, who set a record for women and U.S. astronauts in space, will return home in Atlantis, leaving behind her replacement, John Blaha. 
US astronaut Shannon Lucid offers bread and salt to arriving astronauts at Mir Space Station, 1996. (Reuters)
Russian cosmonaut Elena Kondadova offers her countryman Vasily Tsibliev a traditional gift of bread and salt as the Shuttle Atlantis astronauts and Mir cosmonauts gather in the Mir module after the two spaceships docked May 16. Kondadova had been aboard the Shuttle Atlantis. Shown are from left, top row, Charles Precourt, Tsibliev, Jerry Linenger, who had been aboard the Mir station since January, Kondadova, British/American Michael Foale, Peruvian Carlos Noriega and Edward Lu. Bottom row (L-R) cosmonaut Alexander Lazutkin, Eileen Collins and Frenchman Jean-Francois Clervoy.
Russian cosmonaut Elena Kondadova offers her countryman Vasily Tsibliev bread and salt at a outer space gathering in 1997. (Reuters)

Space tourists, too, partake in the ceremony. The first space tourist, Denis Tito, was treated to a bread and salt welcome after landing in Kazakhstan in 20o1. And American millionaire Gregory Olsen was offered packets of bread and salt when he visited the International Space Station in 2005.

The world's first space tourist Dennis Tito receives a traditional bread and salt after arriving in Chkalovsky airport near the Star City outside Moscow, May 6, 2001. An exhilarated Tito made a text-book landing on the Kazakh steppe early on Sunday and said he had just returned from paradise.
Dennis Tito takes a bite, 2001 (Reuters/STR Now)

Bread and salt ceremonies are performed at weddings, house warming parties and or any occasion to welcome guests, in Kazakhstan.

At around 10:30 pm EST tonight, Kelly is expected to return his hometown of Houston, Texas where he will reunite with his family and his twin brother Mark and finally indulge in whatever food he wants.

U.S. astronaut Scott Kelly gestures shortly after landing near the town of Dzhezkazgan

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