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