Astronaut John Young Smuggled a Corned Beef Sandwich into Space

One moment, etched in the annals of spaceflight lore, is the tale of Gus Grissom, John Young, and the infamous Gemini 3 corned beef sandwich.

In the early days of manned space missions, starting with Project Mercury, the very first human space flight program of the United States, whose goal was to put a man into Earth orbit and return him safely, preferably before the Soviet Union. That part didn't work out so well, but, the newly created civilian space agency NASA, continued on, conducting 20 uncrewed developmental flights, and the six successful flights by astronauts who were collectively known as the "Mercury Seven" Commander Gus Grissom was one of these "7"

After the success of Project Mercury, NASA was now preparing for the big mission to the Moon that President Kennedy had promised, and a promise that NASA was committed to see through. With the Apollo Program now in its infancy, NASA, and its astronauts had to first learn all it could in LEO(Low Earth Orbit)

Project Gemini's objective was the development of space travel techniques to support the future Apollo missions, including methods of performing extravehicular activity (EVA); orbital rendevous, and all maneuvers necessary to achieve docking with another spacecraft.

Gemini III was the very first of the Gemini series of orbital flights, and the first time two American astronauts flew together into space. Everything hung on its success. Since the Soviets had already beaten us to space, the success of the Moon landing was paramount. No slip-ups or unplanned deviations of any kind could be afforded, without potentially catastrophic results to the program.

On March 23, 1965, after a long period of rigorous training and mission preparation, astronauts Gus Grissom and John Young sat in their capsule named Molly Brown in preparation for launch. At precisely 9:24 a.m EST 14:24:00.064 UT, the Titan II rocket, originally designed as an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM), fired her engines with four hundred and thirty thousand pounds of thrust, and left Launch Complex LC-19 on a plume of liquid-fuelled smoke and fire. At the time the mighty Atlas rocket thundered into the heavens, so did the hopes of all those who had contributed to the Gemini Program.

Gemini III and her crew were successfully, and safely inserted into orbit 5 minutes and 54 seconds later (9:29:54 a.m. EST) into a 87 x 121 nautical mile orbit with a period of 88.3 minutes.

Gemini 3's crew were now commencing preparations for their three low Earth orbits and assigned mission to fire orbital thrusters in an effort to change the size and shape of their orbit, shift their orbital plane slightly, and drop to a lower altitude. They were learning to fly...

At the end of the first orbit, Grissom effected the first orbital maneuver, which lowered the orbit, then on the second orbit, Grissom altered the spacecraft inclination by 0.02 degrees. Near the end of the third orbit, at 4:21:23 ground elapsed time(GET) the perigee was lowered to 84 km to allow the orbit to decay naturally in case of retrorocket failure.

NASA had meticulously calculated for every contingency and had every single minut detail scrutinized for its potential impact on the delicate balance of safety and functionality aboard its spacecraft. Every single inch and every pound had been accounted for and triple-checked... Yet, amid the meticulous preparations and stringent protocols, there was a slight weight discrepancy that NASA had not accounted for..Astronaut John Young secretly carried an illegal contraband corned beef sandwich in his space suit pocket.

When the moment was right, as the Gemini Capsule silently orbited our planet at over seventeen thousand miles per hour in low earth orbit, Astronaut John Young turned to Commander Grissom and without any expression, handed Gus the corned beef sandwich that fellow astronaut Wally Schirra had bought it at "Wolfie's" on North Atlantic Avenue in Cocoa Beach and given to Young prior to thier spaceflight.

Okay. What's the Two-Bravo time?
Roger. AV,90. GMTRC 16 52 25. GETRC 02 28 35. Roll left 55.
Roger. Two-Bravo: 90 AV. 16 52 25 GMTRC. Elapsed time of 02 28 25. Roll left 55.
That's affirm.

The crew had the luxury of an approved inflight meal supplied by NASA that was kept in a box next to Grissom. That box contained items like cubed-shaped food slathered in a layer of gelatine and a side of rehydrated applesauce and other emulsified, reconstituted treats...

"I was concentrating on our spacecraft's performance, when suddenly, John asked me, 'You care for a corned-beef sandwich, skipper?’”

What is it??

Corn beef sandwich.

Sure enough, John was holding an honest-to-john corned beef sandwich from Wolfies Restaurant and Sandwich Shop at the Ramada Inn in Cocoa Beach

Where did that come from? Grissom asked. Corned-beef sandwiches were his favorite

I brought it with me. Let's see how it tastes…

Smells, doesn't it?

Funny enough, the famed corned beef sandwich from Wolfies Restaurant and Sandwich Shop at the Ramada Inn was surprisingly not in adherence to NASAs strict regulations for approved in-flight foods...Grissom quickly realized why those good folks at NASA had supplied gel-covered food, as he watched crumbs breaking away from his deli bread and start floating around inside the space capsule. Quickly putting the unfinished sandwich away in his own spacesuit pocket a potentially avoiding a disastrous situation. The floating breadcrumbs could have floated behind an instrument panel causing a short circuit, and potential fire. Nothing is worth risking a fire in a small sealed capsule travelling over seventeen thousand miles per hour. Not even a good corned beef sandwich.

Yes, it's breaking up. I'm going to stick it in my pocket.
Is it?

The orbital exchange over the sandwich lasted less than a minute of mission time and ended with...

It was a thought, anyway.


Not a very good one…

Pretty good, though, if it would just hold together.

As the Gemini III crew neared the end of their third orbit, all tasks were complete, and at precisely 4:21:23 ground elapsed time, or GET (1:45:23 p.m. EST) the orbital perigee was lowered to 84 km to allow orbit to decay naturally in case of retrorocket failure. Reentry commenced at the end of the third orbit and was manually controlled with retrofire at 4:33:23 GET (1:57:23 p.m. EST)

As the now superheated capsule cooked by atmosheric friction desends into thicker air, at roughly 15,000 meters altitude, the astronauts deployed a 2.4 meter drogue chute from the capsule, then at 3230 meters altitude the crew releases a 5.5 meter pilot parachute deploying the 25.6 meter main ring-sail parachute. The spacecraft is then rotated from a nose-up to a 35 degree angle for water landing. At this point a recovery beacon is activated.

The Space Capsule named “Molly Brown” splashed down in the vicinity of Grand Turk Island, at 22.43 N, 70.85 W, at 4:52:31 GET (2:16:31 p.m. EST). Due to spacecraft lift during reentry being less than expected, the capsule landed 111 km short of its target point. Both astronauts became seasick in the Atlantic Ocean waters, removed their suits, and left the spacecraft at about 3:00 p.m. EST. At 3:28 p.m. EST Commander Gus Grissom and John Young were picked up by a Navy helicopter and taken to the recovery ship U.S.S. Intrepid.

 The House of Representatives appropriations committee convened a meeting to investigate the corned beef sandwich incident.  What came of the investigation was the order for strick adherance and control of any unauthorized deli meats into orbit on future space mission. Whether they had mustard and a pickle on it, or not.  

Although the Wolfies sandwich was an admitted failure, the Gemini III mission was a complete success, demonstrating our abilities to "fly" a spacecraft and subsequent flights of the Gemini Program each teaching NASA what it needed to learn, paving the way for the Apollo missions to take over, and fly to the moon.  

 That corned beef sandwich was a symbolic gesture of rebellion against the unsavoury offerings of astronaut food rations, but for the rest of us aviators, the sandwich serves as a reminder of the balance between strict adherence to operating procedures and safety parameters,  and the occasional necessity for a touch of humor and humanity in the skies. A testament to the human spirit's irrepressible need for normalcy even amidst the extraordinary.

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