That's one small step for a sandwich. (Alex Baldinger/The Washington Post)

Earthlings, let us join in celebrations of this momentous occasion! On March 23, 1965, NASA pilot John Young made history when he smuggled a sandwich into space.

The sandwich was corned beef on rye, and it was already two days old when Young whipped it out of his flight suit and took a bite of it two hours into the Gemini 3 mission.

So that's pretty gross.

[In just days, astronaut Scott Kelly will begin historic year in space]

CollectSpace.com reports:

"Where did that come from?" Gus Grissom, the mission's commander, asked his crewmate.

"I brought it with me," Young replied, somewhat matter of factly. "Let's see how it tastes. Smells, doesn't it?"

So the first and hopefully last smuggled space sandwich wasn't even good. The astronauts reported it crumbly and too difficult to eat, then tucked it back into a pocket for safe keeping. C'est la vie.


Astronaut John W. Young, pilot of the Gemini-Titan 3 space flight, checks over his helmet during suiting operations in the suiting trailer at Pad 16 prior to flight. The sandwich was apparently present at the time. (NASA)

The Gemini 3 mission was one of our first manned trips into space, and it only lasted about 5 hours -- long enough for a launch, three orbits of Earth, and a landing. So there wasn't too much time to spare.

Young was supposed to be consuming the newly designed space food that NASA had sent up with them. To be fair, this proto-astronaut-grub was probably about as gross as a two-day-old sandwich.


Yeah, no. (NASA)

"Here I was, sitting over there flying and John was fooling around with the food, and all of a sudden he asked me if I wanted a corned beef sandwich," Grissom said in an April 1965 interview with the Miami News.

[This weekend, ISS astronauts will get their first zero-g coffee maker]

"I hadn't counted on the pungent odor of corned beef in a closed cabin," Young admitted in the same article. Grissom, who died several years later in the tragic Apollo 1 fire, seems to have been a good sport about the stink.

But Young wrote in his memoirs that some members of Congress were mad at the astronauts for ignoring this expensive space food that represented tons of research and development by NASA. In fact, CollectSpace.com reports, NASA's associate administrator for manned spaceflight George Mueller had to reassure members of the government that the agency had "taken steps ... to prevent a recurrence of corned beef sandwiches in future flights."

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield demonstrates what it's like to prepare and eat food in zero-gravity while in space. (Canadian Space Agency via YouTube)

Today, NASA reps would probably be way more concerned with potential safety issues. The little prank (which was pulled off with help from fellow astronaut and notorious trickster Wally Schirra ... he bought the sandwich and snuck it into Young's suit) actually could have been pretty dangerous. There's a reason why astronauts don't get to munch on regular bread these days: In zero gravity, floating crumbs are a big hazard to delicate electrical equipment. That's why astronauts on the International Space Station snack on tortillas instead of regular bread.

But for one brief, glorious, smelly moment in 1965, pranksters prevailed and corned beef was king. Long live the space sandwich of Gemini 3.