At the dawn of the American space program, astronauts had a fairly limited menu to eat. Freeze-dried and semi-liquid powdered foods and cube-shaped snacks that had to be squeezed out of aluminum tubes like toothpaste. Not only were these options unappetizing, but they were also difficult to rehydrate, prompting NASA to receive several complaints from mission crews.
Astronaut John W. Young, pilot of the Gemini III mission, decided to take a different path. Why limit yourself to eating the NASA-approved food when you could bring the one you liked best? Well… I could but secretly, because the space agency prohibited uploading anything undeclared. In this case, and given such restrictive regulations, he brought a smuggled cured meat sandwich, says the National Air and Space Museum.
A meat sandwich in space
It was March 23, 1965, and John Young was ready to go into space with the Gemini III mission, which was the first to carry two people into Earth orbit and one of its objectives was to conduct medical research on in-flight nutrition. However, shortly before boarding the ship, the astronaut he put a corned beef sandwich in the pocket of his space suit that had been bought two days ago by astronaut Wally Schirra in a store in Florida.
About two hours after takeoff, Young surprised Grissom with an unexpected gift. He took the corned beef sandwich out of his suit pocket and offered her some. The mission partner accepted the gift, but the exchange lasted less than a minute. The astronauts did not finish eating the sandwich and Grissom put what was left in his suit pocket, with the aim of preventing the crumbs from floating by the microgravity condition.
However, the exchange was not a secret. NASA’s mission control team learned of the smuggling and was soon alarmed. The astronauts had put Gemini III at risk for several reasons: one was crumbs, which they could get behind the instrument panels and generate electrical problems, in addition, due to the lack of gravity, these could also impact the astronauts’ eyes and cause damage.
Another problem was that, as mentioned above, one of the objectives of the mission was to conduct “space biology” research that included assessing the nutrition of the crew members in flight. As part of these studies, Young was to be fed space food specifically authorized by NASA and Grimson was to eat nothing.because otherwise the final results of the experiment would be altered.
The smuggling of the sandwich went beyond NASA. Some congressmen showed their indignation at such a fact, given the millionaire costs of space missions. In a review by the House Appropriations Committee, in which then administrator James Webb was called to testify, he was called “the 30 million sandwich” by one of the members.
Young later said that too much attention had been given to the episode and that the success of the main objective of the mission, which was to test the maneuverability capabilities of the ship and a system that had been designed for the canceled Mercury-Atlas 10 mission, in which water was injected into the plasma shell surrounding the capsule during re-entry. In any case, at the Grissom Memorial Museum in Indiana, a corned beef sandwich is on display that commemorates that time.
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George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism