Remembering the Astronaut Who Smuggled a Sandwich Into Space
He got in a lot of trouble.
John Young, who died last Friday at the age of 87, was the longest-serving astronaut in NASA history. Since his first flight in 1965, Young spent 835 hours in space and walked on the moon. By all accounts, he had a stellar career.
But it was almost derailed by a corned beef sandwich.
An astronomical amount of time and money goes into feeding NASA’s astronauts. This doesn’t mean the food is particularly tasty, but it is safe, which, in space, means it’s compact. In an enclosed, weightless environment, food particles are a liability: They can gum up machinery or be accidentally inhaled. Even in normal gravity, flaky sliced bread from your average corned beef on rye can get everywhere. In a space shuttle, food particles can be downright dangerous.
But 34-year-old Young wasn’t thinking about that on March 23, 1965, when he accepted a corned beef sandwich from fellow astronaut and famed practical joker Wally Schirra. Schirra had strolled into Wolfie’s Restaurant and Sandwich shop in Cocoa Beach, Florida, two days earlier, to buy a sandwich. He passed it on to Young on the day of the flight, who zipped it into his space suit.