An Astronaut and His Sandwich

January 26, 2018

Well, nothing good comes out of it, that’s for sure.

By NASA – High ResLow Res, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10247197

This week, John Young, one of the longest-serving astronauts in the history of NASA, died at the age of eighty-seven. His first flight was in 1965 aboard the five-hour Gemini mission that hoped, among other objectives, to find out the effects of zero gravity on sea urchin eggs, and to test maneuvers that might help with future moon landings. The astronauts were also there to test out space food. Exciting, right? Well, this first mission was made more exciting for one more reason: Young, just before boarding the spacecraft, took a corned beef sandwich with him.

Yep, that’s right—an innocent little corned beef sandwich. But why is that so unusual? Well, the equipment in spacecrafts is extremely delicate and can easily malfunction due to small particles like dust, dirt, or—you guessed it—food particles. That explains why space food is so unique (and often not the best tasting food!). Young ate part of his sandwich but saved the rest because it started to break apart, and while the sandwich ultimately got disposed of back on planet earth, the news was not received well by Congress, who had invested a lot of money into the project. Young was reprimanded, a first for any NASA astronaut. But all’s well that ends well … Young went on to successfully pilot missions after this incident. In fact, he then went on to be one of the strongest supporters of spacecraft safety. Interestingly, Young admitted much later that he regretted the decision to take the sandwich but did say he wished it had at least come with pickles!