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The Cornbeef Sandwich that Almost Destroyed a Spacecraft… September 20, 2010

Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary , trackback

Today astronauts have it easy when it comes to lunchtime.  They open  their MandMs or unpack a fabulous meal whipped up down at ground control – in 2006 celebrity chef, Rachael Ray even prepared them Swedish meatballs. Then there are the views… Life doesn’t really get much better.

But ‘back in the day’ when the first US astronauts went into orbit they had uninspiring meals to look forward to. Freeze-dry powders, gelatinous lumps and hot-dogs reduced to toothpaste: in short nothing that could break down into crumbs and jeopardise NASA’s delicate machinery or ‘dirty’ the air.

It was only a matter of time before someone rebelled.

John Young is one of America’s most famous space-travellers. As well as being among the first American astronauts and one of the twelve men who walked on the moon, he would also become, in 1981, the captain of a Space Shuttle on the maiden flight of that series. Indeed, his experiences straddle the heroic age of American space exploration.

Young though also had an independent streak and in 1962 he smuggled a corn-beef sandwich onto his Gemini flight, producing it to the surprise (and one suspects the horror) of the flight commander, Grissom.

Grissom’s response was recorded in the flight deck.

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?

Grissom: Yes, it’s breaking up. I’m going to stick it in my pocket.

Young: Is it? It was a thought, anyway.

Grissom: Yep.

Young: Not a very good one.

Grissom: Pretty good, though, if it would just hold together.

A second later Grissom is asking about booster and elevation and the conversation returns to its normal groove.

Young was given a dressing down by NASA, but the sandwich incident clearly didn’t damage the astronaut’s career and the newspapers got to fill in a joke column or two.

Beachcombing had wanted to finish this piece by wondering aloud about what would have happened if Young had been a Soviet Cosmonaut who had smuggled some borsch onto a trip ‘for a laugh’. But a little research has shown that the Soviets were, in this respect at least, more enlightened. Instead of reducing food to liquids and powders they concentrated on the technology for getting rids of crumbs and dangerous waste. Makes sense if you think about it…

Beachcombing has a small but largely uninspiring file of space stories, additions always welcome: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com