Early space food was about as appetizing as airplane food, except smushed into even-less-appealing tubes of paste. Astronauts are daring and brave personalities, unlikely to comply to drab mealtimes. The result? A smuggling caper with a delicious payoff.
Remember what we said in our last installment about the bland Astronaut diet? Well, back during the Gemini flights in the 1960s, food was even blander. While it wasn't purely the tubed meat and vegetable packets of the earliest mission (John Glenn's snack aboard the Friendship 7 mission), it consisted largely of dehydrated, freeze dryed and cubed food covered in gelatin to prevent crumbs. A typical meal would look like the following:
The Gemini III menu contained hot dogs, brownies, chicken legs and apple sauce, all contained in squeezy tubes or small packets.
Sounds scrumptious. I'll have a tube of chicken leg please.
So, how could a real sandwich loving man like Gus Grissom manage in Space? This occupied the mind of one pilot John Young who smuggled a little extra snack onboard. About two hours into the flight, while discussing food, John Young produced a secret prize. A contraband corned beef sandwich.
FOOD OF KINGS.
Well, apparently, the fun with the sandwich lasted less than a minute. Corned Beef was not ready for outer space and in a mission where odor and mess needed to be kept down to a mission, well, let's just say, they failed that mission. But NASA and Congress wasn't happy. NO SIREE!
And well, they got down to this bottom of this tempest in a teapot or rather, corned beef sandwich. It was a conspiracy of epic proportions:
It transpired that another member of the Gemini Project, Walter Schirra (who had a reputation as being the joker amongst the astronaut team) wasn't flying on that day and he was able to take a trip to the astronauts' favorite deli in Cocoa Beach, Fla., to pick up the contraband.
This is where the corned beef sandwich began its extraterrestrial journey; from Schirra's purchase to Young's pocket, into space and then back to earth at an Appropriations Committee meeting.
At that meeting, Sen. George E. Shipley blasted NASA: "My thought is that after you spend a great deal of money and time, to have one of the astronauts slip a sandwich aboard this vehicle, frankly, is just a little disgusting."
NASA gave all the men a little dressing down but no one's career was affected, including John Young, our chief sandwich smuggler, who flew numerous flights up to the early Space Shuttle launches. And they served as inspiration for all us who want epic snacks available in even the most unlikely of places.
Space Hi-Jinx Part III: Cursing on the Moon