A corn beef sandwich encased in acrylic to prevent decay, on display at the Grissom Memorial Museum in Indiana. Image: Collect Space

A corn beef sandwich encased in acrylic to prevent decay, on display at the Grissom Memorial Museum in Indiana. Image: Collect Space

When you gotta eat… well you gotta eat, even in space. On March 23, 1965 astronaut John Young launched to Earths’ orbit aboard the Gemini 3. With him was crewmate Gus Grissom and a two days old corn beef sandwich, smuggled without permission on the spacecraft. Apparently, Grissom is a big fan of corn beef, so Young decided to offer him a treat, especially considering how bad space food was in those day. Here’s an excerpt from the mission’s transcript.

Grissom: What is it?
Young: Corn beef sandwich
Grissom: Where did that come from?
Young: I brought it with me. Let’s see how it tastes. Smells, doesn’t it?

This move didn’t bode well with NASA administrators, and the matter was even discussed in Congress. NASA’s deputy administrator George Mueller had to promise something like this will never happen. But what’s the big deal? Remember, everything behaves differently in space and this sort of uncertainty can bite you where it hurts the most. Specifically, the sandwich crumbled in a myriad of tiny pieces. Eventually, Grissom put the sandwich away after a bite or two, but even so their flight cabin was littered with rye bread crumbs. Of course, microgravity affects the odor molecules as well, and the smell went stale throughout the cabin.

Young (left) and Grissom (right) abord Gemini.  Image: NASA

Young (left) and Grissom (right) abord Gemini. Image: NASA

Luckily, the flight only lasted for five hours and soon enough the two astronauts were back home safely. This fairly innocent, but reckless move could have costed the whole mission dearly, however. The crumbs could have easily infiltrated through the back wiring, interfering with electronics. Who knows what might had happened.

“After the flight our superiors at NASA let us know in no uncertain terms that non-man-rated corned beef sandwiches were out for future space missions. But John’s deadpan offer of this strictly non-regulation goodie remains one of the highlights of our flight for me.”

What was on the menu for Young and Grissom. Yup, now I get it. Image: NASA

What was on the menu for Young and Grissom. Yup, now I get it. Image: NASA

Ironically, corned beef finally turned up on NASA’s menu in 1981 for the first ever shuttle launch. Not coincidentally, Young served as the commander of Columbia. Young worked for NASA for 42 years and announced his retirement on December 7, 2004.  enjoyed the longest career of any astronaut, becoming the first person to make six space flights over the course of 42 years of active NASA service, and is the only person to have piloted, and been commander of, four different classes of spacecraft: Gemini, the Apollo Command/Service Module, the Apollo Lunar Module, and the Space Shuttle.

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