The Gemini 3 Contraband Corned-beef Sandwhich

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.

Mercury and Gemini Food (1961 – 1966) Image courtesy of NASA

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.

Wolfie’s on North Atlantic Avenue in Cocoa Beach circa mid 1960’s. Source: CollectSpace;

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.


The Dish.

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!


The Ingredients.

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 egg

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

The Equipment.

Pastry brush

Cooling rack or plate

Baking dish (I used a 9 inch cake pan)

Mixer with dough hook

Bread knife

Measuring spoons and cups

Whisk or fork

Small bowl

Mixing bowl


The Recipe.

 Rustic Rye Bread

1) In the mixer bowl, combine yeast, sugar, melted butter, egg, and milk. Using the dough hook, mix for 1 minute.

2) Add salt, rye and all purpose flour and caraway seeds.
3) At low speed, beat until mixed – about a minute.
4) At medium speed, beat until a dough ball forms, leaving the sides of the bowl.
5) Remove the dough from the bowl and using your hands make into a smooth ball.
6) Lightly oil a bowl with the olive oil and after placing the dough into the bowl, smooth with hands while covering with the oil.
7) Cover with plastic wrap (or for a more space worthy appearance, aluminum foil.
8) Place bowl in warm place until it doubles in size. Depending on the temperature of where you place the dough, this can take up to an hour or slightly longer.
9) Remove the dough from the bowl into the baking pan.
10) Knead the dough gently a few times then cover or smooth any seams.
11) Place the dough into the slightly greased pan and cover again and place in a warm place for about an hour until the dough doubles in size again.
12) Using the pastry brush cover the dough with the egg wash.
13) Optionally sprinkle a few extra caraway seeds on top.
14) Place pan into preheated 350 degree oven and bake until golden brown. This will take about an hour.
15) Remove and cool on rack or plate.

 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;

²  “Two Astronauts Team Up as Comics,” The Washington Post, 26 March 1965



Freedom 7, Steak and Eggs

On May 4, 1961 Alan Shepard dined on a breakfast consisting of:

…orange juice, a filet mignon wrapped in bacon, and some scrambled eggs…¹

He was joined at this historic meal by John Glenn, his backup, his physician William K. Douglas and other members of the operations crew. After the successful launch and completion of the first manned space mission by the United States, many astronauts would follow in Alan Shepard’s gastronomical footsteps and enjoy the now traditional pre-flight breakfast of steak and eggs. Though the pre-flight meals are chosen by the astronauts, for the three days preceding the launch of Freedom 7 Alan Shepard’s ate specially designed meals that were healthy and low residue. 

61-02735 (5 May 1961) — Astronauts Alan Shepard and John Glenn at breakfast before Shepard’s Mercury-Redstone 3 (MR-3) spaceflight. Photo credit: NASA or National Aeronautics and Space Administration ref:

The traditional meal continued and was even chosen as the pre-flight breakfast for the crew of Apollo 11. In the photo below, it appears that toast was added to their meal.

Chief astronaut and director of flight crew operations, Donald K. Slayton (right front) reviews lunar charts with Apollo 11 astronauts Michael Collins (left), Neil Armstrong, and Edwin Aldrin (next to Slayton) during breakfast a short time before the three men launched for the first Moon landing mission. Sharing breakfast with the crew was William Anders (left rear), Lunar Module pilot for the Apollo 8 lunar orbit mission. The Apollo 11 mission launched from the NASA Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida via the Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) developed Saturn V launch vehicle on July 16, 1969 and safely returned to Earth on July 24, 1969. The CM, “Columbia”, piloted by Collins, remained in a parking orbit around the Moon while the LM, “Eagle’’, carrying astronauts Armstrong and Aldrin, landed on the Moon. On July 20, 1969, Armstrong was the first human to ever stand on the lunar surface, followed by Aldrin. During 2½ hours of surface exploration, the crew collected 47 pounds of lunar surface material for analysis back on Earth. With the success of Apollo 11, the national objective to land men on the Moon and return them safely to Earth had been accomplished.

Over the course of the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and well into the Shuttle program the tradition was honored by many astronauts. In an article he wrote for Gizmodo², astronaut Leroy Chiao describes a time when astronauts had veered away from the tradition, ordering items such as dry toast and yogurt. During this pre-flight meal Dr. Chiao ordered steak and eggs over easy, reaffirming the tradition. He notes in the article that after making his case for his breakfast of choice three of his crew mates changed their order to match his. In fact, Dr. Chaio ordered steak and eggs for each of his NASA pre flight meals!³ The tradition lives on!

The Meal.

Bacon Wrapped Beef Fillet, Scrambled Eggs, Orange Juice, Coffee.
I’m not going to discuss how to make fresh squeezed orange juice or how to make the perfect cup of flight ready coffee. I’ll leave those details (pulp/no pulp, cream / sugar) up to the reader.  I’m going to focus on the heart of the meal, the steak and the eggs. While many people, including Dr. Chiao preferred their eggs over easy, I’m including my recipe for scrambled eggs simply because it’s what I’ll order for my pre-flight meal!

The Ingredients.

2 8oz beef fillets

2 slices uncooked, hardwood smoked bacon

4 large eggs

4 tbsp salted butter

1 tsp fresh cracked black pepper

1 tsp sea salt

1/2 tsp minced garlic

The Equipment.


Cast Iron Skillet.

Wooden toothpicks

Sharp Knife

Mixing Bowl




Pastry spreader or Spatula

Plates or cutting board

The Recipes.

Bacon Wrapped Fillet

1. Preheat oven to 350°F.

2. Trip 1/4 inch off each strip of bacon and set aside.

3. Wrap a slice of bacon around a fillet and secure with one or two toothpicks as needed. Note: leave only enough tooth pick outside the fillet to be able to retrieve it.

4. Repeat step 3 for the other fillet.

5. Put the cast iron skillet on a large burner and turn to low-high (7 if your range is on a scale of 1 to 10).

6. In the pan add 1 tsp of butter and let melt.

7. Next, place both fillets into pan and let cook for one minute.

8. Using the tongs, turn the fillets and cook for one minute on the other side.

9. At this point both sides of the fillets should be browned. If not, cook repeat steps 7 and 8.

10. Using the tongs put the fillets on their sides and cook for a minute.

11. Flip the fillets on the opposite side and let the bacon sizzle!

12. Rotate them again (90 degrees) to one of the uncooked sides for a minute.

13. One more time, rotate to the uncooked side and cook for a minute.

14. Transfer the fillets on to a plate and add the garlic to the skillet.

15. Saute the garlic for two minutes.

16. Separate the garlic with a fork or spatula into two piles in the skillet.

17. Place the fillets onto the garlic, salt and pepper, then place in oven.

18. Bake the fillets in the oven, rotating them every 4 to 5 minutes for 25 minutes.

19. Check the temperature of fillets using a meat thermometer. For medium rare it should read 130-140°F.

20. Place the fillets onto a clean dish.

21. Turn the burner back onto low-high (7) and add remaining butter, dash of salt and pepper into the skillet. NOTE: do not remove any drippings!

22. Crack the eggs into a bowl and mix with a fork or whisk.

23. Pour the eggs into skillet.

24. Using a pastry spreader or spatula push the eggs from the outside edge towards the center of the skillet.

25. As needed lift and turn the skillet to spread the uncooked egg onto the outer edges of the skillet.

26. As the eggs cook, fold or push the eggs from the outer edge towards the center.

27. Then the eggs solid, turn or flip them and let cook one minute.

28. Plate the fillets and eggs, ensuring that you have removed the toothpicks from the fillets!


This version of a breakfast heavily laden with tradition and ingrained in this history of the exploration of space is fit for any occasion. It is also one well fit for special occasions alike, including birthday’s, anniversary dinners, Dragon X launches or a post launch gathering of SpaceTweeps.

Bon appétit and Ad Astra


1 “This New Ocean: A History of Project Mercury”; Loyd S. Swenson Jr.,James M. Grimwood,Charles C. Alexander, Published as NASA Special Publication-4201 in the NASA History Series, 1989. http://history.naThis New Ocean: A History of Project

2 “Pre-Launch Jitters and Then… Liftoff”; Dr. Leroy Chiao, Published on, 5/6/09;

³ Email Correspondence with Dr. Chio, 5/25/2014