50 Years Ago, Astronauts Smuggled This Corned Beef Sandwich Into Space

When you think “space food,” you probably think Tang and freeze-dried ice cream, not a whopping deli corned beef sandwich on rye. Turns out, there’s a reason for that.

When you think “space food,” you probably think Tang and freeze-dried ice cream — not a whopping deli corned beef sandwich on rye. Turns out there’s a reason for that.

Fifty years ago, on March 23, 1965, a hefty corned beef sandwich achieved uncharacteristic weightlessness after it was smuggled into space aboard NASA’s Gemini 3 in the spacesuit pocket of astronaut John Young. Backup command pilot Wally Schirra, a noted prankster, had handed the two-day-old sandwich, which he’d bought at the now-defunct Wolfie’s Restaurant and Sandwich Shop in Cocoa Beach, Fla., to Young the morning Gemini 3, the first American two-man space flight, blasted off. Young, the pilot, surprised Gemini 3 command pilot Gus Grissom with it during their flight.

"Where did that come from?" Grissom asked, according to the space history site CollectSPACE, which, to mark the anniversary, recalled the story and tweeted an image of the historic sandwich, embedded in acrylic and on display at the Grissom Memorial Museum in Mitchell, Ind.

Young replied that he had brought along the sandwich, and suggested the two of them “see how it tastes.”

“Smells, doesn't it?" he further observed.

Alas, after a bite, the experiment proved unsuccessful: Unlike official space snacks, the sandwich was not coated with gelatin to keep crumbling in check.

"It's breaking up,” Grissom told his crewmate. “I am going to stick it in my pocket."

Young admitted defeat, though he noted that the sandwich would have tasted "pretty good” if it only it had held together.

The contraband sandwich sparked controversy back on Earth. Crumbs could have lodged in the electrical system or gotten in the way of the mission, some politicians griped, prompting NASA to promise to take steps to prevent future smuggled-corned-beef incidents. Authorized bite-size bread cubes (and a loaf here or there) and NASA-approved corned beef did eventually make it onto space shuttle menus.

But according to collectSPACE.com, Young thought too much was made of his sandwich caper, considering the sandwich in question featured neither a smear of mustard nor a pickle on the side.

If you’re suddenly craving out-of-this-world corned beef, here’s Tyler Florence’s recipe. Five … four …. three … two … one …

Photo courtesy of @collectSPACE
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