One of the emblematic chapters of The Simpson it is Deep Space Homer, which premiered in February 1994 as part of the fifth season of the FOX animated series. In it, Homer becomes an astronaut and wreaks havoc in space by smuggling in a packet of potato chips and crashing the ship’s systems after an ill-fated “food dance” in zero gravity. Situation that, as ridiculous as it may seem, bears a certain similarity to a real life event carried out by the astronauts of the Gemini IIIfrom 1965.
This mission is considered a fundamental piece of the success of the United States space race. After all, Gemini III was not only the first in its program to have two crew members, but it also served to test several essential spacecraft functions that paved the way for the Apollo missions. These include docking maneuvers and the use of thrusters to change the size and shape of its own orbit. However, it has also been framed in history to be recorded the first case of food smuggling in space.
John Youngone of the Gemini III pilots, entered the ship with a corned beef sandwich hidden in his astronaut suit. So far, it doesn’t seem like anything too outrageous. But the case quickly became public, earning both Young and Gus Grissom, the mission commander, a reprimand.
Gemini III and the first recorded case of space food smuggling
The curious thing is that NASA had provided Gemini III with approved food to withstand the almost five hours of the mission. However, the menu was not very appetizing, since it consisted of food divided into gel-coated cubes to prevent possible crumbs from affecting the ship’s instruments. In fact, one of the goals of the flight was to sample a new variety of specially packaged foods.
But dehydrated food did not arouse passions in astronauts. Gus Grissom himself acknowledged having complained more than once about what NASA nutritionists gave them. So it was quite a surprise when John Young pulled the steak sandwich out of his pocket and offered him a portion. “He was concentrating on the performance of our spaceship, when all of a sudden John asked me, ‘Would you like a corned beef sandwich, Captain?’ If he could have knocked me off the couch, he would have. Sure enough, I was holding a real corned beef sandwich,” the commander explained years later.
Still, the delight was short-lived. After a few bites, the rye bread began to give off crumbs that floated around the cabin. So Young put the leftover sandwich back in the pocket of his spacesuit. But the situation did not go unnoticed by NASA engineers, who reported on the return of the Gemini III that the small pieces of bread could have jammed the electronic systems. And the wake-up call was immediate:
“After the flight, we were informed in no uncertain terms by our superiors at NASA that unapproved corned beef sandwiches were off the table for future space missions.”
Gus Grissom, commander of the Gemini III.
A curious story, without a doubt.. Of the many that have remained from the first years of the frantic race to reach the Moon.