How the First Corned Beef Sandwich in Space Was Smuggled Aboard a NASA Space Flight

Updated on October 23, 2019
Ian Mundell profile image

Ian is a computer scientist and geopolitical forecaster. He has been fascinated by all forms of science since childhood.


Astronaut John Young and his Secret Corned Beef Sandwich

The 1960s was the heyday of American space activity, culminating in the incredible moon landing in 1969. Many astronauts contributed along the way, but one of the oddest stories is the time astronaut John Young smuggled a corned beef sandwich onto a NASA space mission.

Astronaut John Youg


Gemini 3, the First Crewed Gemini MIssion

In 1957, the Soviet satellite Sputnik 1 was launched successfully, becoming the first artificial Earth satellite and establishing the Soviet Union as the space race leaders. NASA quickly committed to an ambitious schedule, launching Project Mercury in 1958. Mercury was the first human spaceflight program, and the Gemini program followed.

The Gemini program was designed to advance space travel techniques that would eventually be used in a moon landing. One of the biggest areas of research was to test different kinds of space food - food items that were specially invented for use on space flights.


Crumbs and Zero Gravity

Everyday things can become a real challenge in space, thanks to almost zero gravity. Food is no exception. Crumbs and liquids can float away, posing a hazard to delicate instruments on a space mission. There was a real concern that stray crumbs could have floated inside a module or behind a panel, damaging the instruments. Beyond the potential risk to equipment, there was also the danger of small objects floating into an astronaut's eye.

Scientists had therefore invented a range of different foods for the astronauts to sample, with the majority either being sticky pastes or individual bite sized pieces of food coated in gelatin to prevent crumbling. They didn't look very appetizing, but on a space flight the gourmet aspect was not high on the priority list; functionality and safety came first.

The Smuggled Corned Beef Sandwich

Gemini 3 was the first NASA mission to carry two astronauts. But, again beating America to the punch, a two man Soviet mission had successfully launched just days before the March 23rd flight. The mood at NASA and in the United States government was tense.

Pilot John Young, however, decided to break the tension with a prank - a two day old corned beef sandwich that he'd hidden in his pocket, which he proceeded to pull out part way into the flight.

A surprised Gus Grissom, the mission commander, asked where it had come from. Young replied by suggesting they taste it, commenting, "smells, doesn't it?".

It also was crumbly. Grissom later said "crumbs of rye bread started floating all around the cabin". The sandwich quickly went back into its bag.

The most disappointing part of the whole sandwich taste test? According to John Young, it was the lack of mustard "and no pickle".

"We are not Amused" - Congress is Upset

The entire joke lasted about a minute out of the nearly five hour mission. With many other real accomplishments coming out of that flight, it might well have been no more than a brief note in the logs.

However, with so much at stake - both politically, in the race to beat the Soviet Union, and monetarily - everything was under scrutiny. The newly developed space food had cost millions of dollars, and when news of the illicit sandwich became known there was an outcry from several congressmen.

The House Appropriations Committee thought the two spacemen had deliberately ignored one of the primary objectives of the flight - to evaluate carefully designed and very expensive space food. Illinois representative George Shipley did not see anything funny about the escapade. "My thought is that ... to have one of the astronauts slip a sandwich aboard the vehicle, frankly, is just a little bit disgusting".

This resulted in a memorable statement from top NASA official George Mueller, who would go on record as promising, "we have taken steps ... to prevent recurrence of corned beef sandwiches in future flights.

The Best Corned Beef Sandwich

What should go in a real corned beef sandwich?

See results

No More Unauthorized Sandwiches

Gemini 3 proved to be a valuable mission. It was the first manned space flight to include an orbital maneuver, for instance. But, following George Mueller's commitment, it was the last flight to include unauthorized delicatessen products.

However, corned beef would eventually find its way back into space, this time in an official capacity. In April 1981, the first space shuttle flight included corned beef cubes on the menu.

Completing the cycle, the commander of that space shuttle flight was none other than John Young.


Zhang, S. (2015, March 24). 50 Years Ago, NASA Astronauts Smuggled a Corned Beef Sandwich Into Space. Retrieved from

(2015, March 23). Gemini 3 and the first (contraband) corned beef sandwich in space 50 years ago. Retrieved from

Origjanska, M. (2018, February 22). The Danger that Ensued when a Corned Beef Sandwich was Smuggled into Space. Retrieved from

Howell, E. (2018, January 10). How John Young Smuggled a Corned-Beef Sandwich into Space. Retrieved from


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)