On March 23, 1965, astronaut John Young reached into his pocket and offered his crewmate Gus Grissom a corned beef sandwich. It was in the middle of the Gemini 3 mission, and let’s be clear, they were in space. It was a silly little prank but one that, man, really pissed off Congress.
Gemini 3 was NASA’s first two-man space mission, and among its many objectives was to test newly invented space food. For example, writes Robert Z. Pearlman in Space.com, the test foods were coated in gelatin to prevent crumbling.
The smuggled corned beef sandwich, of course, had no such special coating. Fellow astronaut Wally Schirra had bought the sandwich from Wolfie’s Restaurant and Sandwich Shop two days ago and passed it off to Young before the launch. Food doesn’t taste so good in space, and it’s hard to believe a two-day old corned beef sandwich would be delicious. In any case, Grissom had to put it away after a bite, when crumbs started floating everywhere. Oops, microgravity.
Back on Earth, the House of Representatives’ appropriations committee caught wind of the stunt. “A couple of congressmen became upset, thinking that, by smuggling in the sandwich and eating part of it, Gus and I had ignored the actual space food that we were up there to evaluate, costing the country millions of dollars,” Young wrote in his memoir. NASA eventually had to assure Congress that no, it wasn’t going to allow any more contraband corned beef sandwiches into space.
Young would make several more trips into space with Gemini 10, Apollo 10, Apollo 16, and the space shuttle. Corned beef made it back into space, too, on the first space shuttle flight in 1981 commanded by none other than Young himself.
Read more about the smuggled corned beef sandwich on Space.com.
Picture: John Young (left) and Gus Grissom (right)/NASA