First Man To Get In Trouble For Smuggling Sandwich Into Space Passes Away – His Memory Revisited
Astronaut John Young, who passed away on January 5th at the age of 87, will forever be remembered as an integral part of America’s earliest journeys into space. Young enjoyed the longest career of any astronaut, eventually flying six space missions, which included moonwalks during the Apollo 16 mission in 1972. Yet he is also remembered for a NASA scandal he caused after deciding to take a corned-beef sandwich with him to space on March 23, 1965.
Young and crewman Gus Grissom were set to make history by launching on Gemini 3 as the first United State mission to carry two astronauts. And while the mission itself was an historical occasion, it was the minute long conversation the astronauts had during their 6-hour mission that proved to be the most memorable.
“What is it?” Grissom asked.
“Corned-beef sandwich,” Young replied.
“Where did that come from?” Grissom asked.
Young responded, “I brought it with me. Let’s see how it tastes. Smells, doesn’t it?”
Young had snuck the sandwich in his pocket before launch and enjoyed “the chance to carry out some real ‘firsts’ in spaceflight.” Early space food was usually very bland, and astronauts essentially sucked nutrition out of a pouch. For Young, not only was this an interesting experiment, but it was also potentially a welcome treat.
“I took a bite, but crumbs of rye bread started floating all around the cabin,” he explained shortly after returning home. He stuck it back in his pocket for the duration of the mission since it had started to break apart. Grissom exclaimed that it was a pretty good thought, “if it would just hold together.”
The seemingly harmless event was quickly picked up by the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Appropriations. One member of Congress famously called the incident “a $30 million sandwich” citing safety concerns about debris interfering with spacecraft operations.
In his 2012 memoir “Forever Young,” Young recounted the proceedings:
“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.”
George Mueller, who was NASA’s associate administrator for manned space flight, said, “We have taken steps…to prevent recurrence of corned-beef sandwiches in future flights.”
Today, food selection for space missions is quite a bit better than during Young’s time, so smuggled sandwiches are no longer a concern. Still, Young could never have imagined the uproar he caused by taking his lunch with him on a quick mission to orbit the Earth.