How John Young smuggled a corned-beef sandwich into space

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Whereas John Younger, who died on Jan. 5 at age 87, is known for his Apollo 16 moonwalks and his function as commander of the primary house shuttle mission, the NASA astronaut can also be remembered for a small scandal he triggered with a sneaky act: smuggling a corned-beef sandwich into house.

Younger slipped the sandwich into his pocket simply earlier than launching on Gemini three on March 23, 1965. It was the primary U.S. mission to hold two astronauts — Younger and his crewmate, Gus Grissom. However the Soviets had launched their very own two-person mission, Voskhod 2, lower than every week earlier, so tensions had been already excessive amongst politicians when Gemini three safely made it to house and effectively accomplished its targets.

The corned-beef sandwich sparked a short dialog between Younger and Grissom, in response to the Gemini three transcript. The chat lasted for less than a couple of minute of the practically 6-hour mission.[John Young in Photos: Astronaut, Moonwalker, Shuttle Pioneer]

“What’s it?” Grissom requested. “Corned-beef sandwich,” Younger replied. “The place did that come from?” Grissom requested. Answered Younger: “I introduced it with me. Let’s have a look at the way it tastes. Smells, does not it?”

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Grissom tasted the sandwich but quickly announced he would stick it back in his pocket because it was starting to break up. Young suggested the sandwich was “a thought … not a very good one.” Replied Grissom: “Pretty good, though, if it would just hold together.”

Shortly after returning home from the mission, Grissom later recounted the taste test for Life magazine. “I took a bite, but crumbs of rye bread started floating all around the cabin,” he said, adding that he and Young enjoyed “the chance to carry out some real ‘firsts’ in spaceflight.” [Space Food Evolution: How Astronaut Chow Has Changed (Photos)]

But the brief incident sparked a review by the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Appropriations, in which one member of Congress called it “a $30 million sandwich” and politicians cited safety concerns about crumbs interfering with spacecraft operations. Several senior NASA officials, including then-Administrator James Webb, testified at the proceedings.

Young recalled that review in his 2012 memoir “Forever Young”: “Today the theater that took place inside the meeting room that day strikes me as totally comic, but I can assure you that those testifying for NASA at the time were not smiling.”

A frequently cited quote from that meeting comes from George Mueller, then NASA’s associate administrator for manned space flight: “We have taken steps … to prevent recurrence of corned-beef sandwiches in future flights,” he said.

Corned beef flies officially in 1981

The offending sandwich came from a Cocoa Beach, Florida, deli called Wolfie’s Restaurant and Sandwich Shop, at the Ramada Inn. (The chain closed in 2002, according to Space.com partner site collectSPACE .) Noted astronaut prankster Wally Schirra bought the sandwich and gave it to Young, who smuggled it on board in a spacesuit pocket.

For context, early space food (by today’s standards) was pretty bland, with astronauts often needing to suck nutrition out of a pouch. Today, astronauts commonly make their own sandwiches ( and even pizzas ) on the International Space Station — but they use tortilla bread to reduce crumbs.

“I didn’t think it was any big deal,” Young wrote in his memoirs of the sandwich, pointing out that one of the mission objectives had been to test NASA food anyway. “It was very common to carry sandwiches — in fact, the corned beef was the third sandwich that had been carried on a spacecraft.”

 

Corned beef did appear on the menu of the first space shuttle mission in April 1981 — which Young happened to command.

While the infamous sandwich is no longer available to historians, a similar one, preserved in acrylic, is on display at the Grissom Memorial Museum in Mitchell, Indiana.

Chris Kraft was NASA’s flight director during Gemini 3. In his 2001 memoir, “Flight,” Kraft defended the astronauts’ actions. “No matter how brave or focused an astronaut is, there’s a tension in spaceflight that none of us on the ground can truly appreciate. A moment of diversion up there is no bad thing.”

Young added that, in any case, the sandwich was missing some ingredients. “It didn’t even have mustard on it,” he wrote. “And no pickle.”

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