The first manned Gemini mission, Gemini III, only orbited the Earth three times. This crucial mission, which like the rest of the Gemini missions, served as a bridge to the later Apollo missions to the moon. On this mission, that would only last a few hours, food for the crew was not about nutrition and “life support” but rather about experimentation for providing it on longer missions. During this early test of the food systems that would feed men on the way to the moon, astronauts Command Pilot “Gus” Grissom and pilot John Young would have food designed for nutrition and safety, not so much for taste. Either from tubes or small cubes of coated food, designed to minimize order and crumbs, their food would be a test to see how astronauts could handle eating in space. Later missions would see how their bodies digested the food.
It can not be overstated how important safety is when it comes to the food astronauts dine on. On Earth, crumbs from our food, with a great deal of assistance from gravity, hit our plates or the ground. In the micro-gravity of Earth orbit, crumbs float creating a breathing hazard to crew. Also if a a crumb of food or droplet from a drink manages to float through a spacecraft’s interior and find a critical bit of electronics – a real disaster could occur. This is the primary reason that NASA officials, members of Congress and members of the press were not amused when it was discovered that John Young had smuggled a sandwich on board their spacecraft, The Molly Brown. Sometime after their first orbit, Young pulled out the sandwich and offered a bite to his crew-mate Grissom. After taking a few bites, the two realized that the sandwich was producing a dangerous amount of… crumbs.
The sandwich was stowed and thus the first sandwich in space found it’s way into history.
The sandwich was purchased at “Wolfie’s” deli on North Atlantic Avenue in Cocoa Beach by fellow astronaut Wally Schirra. Prior to launch Shirra gave the sandwich to Young¹ and this and the following act of sandwich smuggling was the cause of criticism in The Washington Post². Labeled as comics and jokesters by the press and public, the stunt would not impact the astronauts careers. In fact, Schirra would go on to become command pilot of Apollo VII making him the only astronaut to fly missions for projects Mercury, Geminii and Apollo³. Virgil “Gus” Grissom was later assigned to the Apollo program and died tragically on January 27, 1967, during the Apollo 1 fire.
Corned-beef Sandwhich on Rye Bread
One day I might tackle making my own Corned-beef but not today. Instead, I’ll share a recipe for a rustic style rye bread as hearty as anything you’ll put between two slices!
1/4 lb corned-beef
2-4 slices Swiss cheese
4 slices rustic rye bread (see below)
Rye Bread ingredients:
1 envelope (1/4-ounce) dry yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
3 tablespoons melted butter
1 cup warm milk (about 110 degrees F)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 cup rye flour
2 1/2 cups bleached all-purpose flour
1-2 tablespoon caraway seeds (this depends on how robust of flavor you want – I recommend 2 tablespoons)
1 teaspoon olive or vegetable oil
1 large egg, beaten
Optional; stone mustard, pickle slices
Cooling rack or plate
Baking dish (I used a 9 inch cake pan)
Mixer with dough hook
Measuring spoons and cups
Whisk or fork
Rustic Rye Bread
1) In the mixer bowl, combine yeast, sugar, melted butter, egg, and milk. Using the dough hook, mix for 1 minute.
The Contraband Sandwich
1) Place 1/8th of a pound of corned-beef on one slice of rye bread (optionally toasted), then 1-2 slices of swish cheese.
2) Next , optionally add mustard, pickle, etc to taste.
3) Put on remaining slice of rye and repeat.
This version of a sandwich that caused quite the stir in the press and reminded astronauts of the dangers of crumbs in micro-gravity can be enjoyed warm or cold, grilled or toasted.
Bon appétit and Ad Astra
¹ “On the Shoulders of Titans: A History of Project Gemini“;Barton C. Hacker & James M. Grimwood; Published as NASA Special Publication-4203 in the NASA History Series, 1977; http://www.hq.nasa.gov/office/pao/History/SP-4203/ch10-5.htm
² “Two Astronauts Team Up as Comics,” The Washington Post, 26 March 1965
³ “WALTER M. SCHIRRA (CAPTAIN, USN, RET.)”, NASA, http://www.jsc.nasa.gov/Bios/htmlbios/schirra-wm.html