Gemini-style pouches epitomize the food many people still associate with space travel, thanks to the inexplicable popularity of freeze-dried astronaut ice cream, ever a hit among kids passing through museum gift shops. In actuality, those dried foam cubes made it into space only once before being abandoned because of their grotesque texture and ill flavor.
The Gemini mission also clearly illustrated something prison administrators and ship captains have known for a long time: People confined to small spaces for extended periods focus with near-obsession on the quality, quantity and variety of food. A riotous insurrection of sorts even broke out over food that the astronauts almost universally despised. When Gemini 3 commander Gus Grissom entered space in March 1965, he was one of the most vocal and persistent critics of the space-cowboy chow.
Unknown to anyone else, his co-pilot John Young had hatched a sly plan to remedy the situation. Shortly after the two settled into Earth orbit, Young reached into a spacesuit pocket and grinned at Grissom. “You care for a corned beef sandwich, skipper?” he asked as he handed over a smuggled surprise. A delighted Grissom happily tore off a few bites before he had to abandon the sandwich because of the cloud of floating rye bread bits it caused.
Few were laughing on the ground. Congress hastily convened a hearing to determine if the stowaway sandwich and its crumbs presented any risk to the fledgling space program — the nation’s crown jewel in the 1960s — and its craft. After hangdog NASA handlers promised it wouldn’t happen again, no further action was taken against Young or Grissom for their deli devilry.
By the time the Apollo 11 mission was on the launchpad for its historic trip to the lunar surface in July 1969, we may have figured out how to send a man to the moon, but we hadn’t yet figured out how to send good food with him. Instead of being forced to rely on Gemini’s cold freeze-dried foodstuffs, Apollo astronauts were forced to rely on hot freeze-dried foodstuffs. This included a breakfast item memorably described by one of its testers as “coarse granulated rubber with a sausage flavor.”