began planning for space travel one of its first concerns was getting the astronaut
s fed. Fresh food was out of the question - it had to be prepared, and when eaten, it could spoil or break apart.
NASA turned to food industry specialists for help on space cuisine. General Foods (makers of Tang) and Pillsbury were two of the most prominent companies to lend their support.
Pillsbury had been working with NASA on several fronts. The company best known for the Jolly Green Giant was attempting to perfect a food-preservation method. Called HACCP (Hazard and Critical Control Point Analysis), these guidelines for handling food safely have since become industry standards.
NASA also asked Pillsbury to create an edible food snack which would not break apart and contaminate the delicate environment of a space capsule. Their response was to create a high-protein cereal which made its debut on Scott Carpenter's five hour Mercury flight on May 24, 1962. The snack proved successful, and several permutations later, an improved version - a chewy "energy stick" - won a place on the historic Apollo 11 moon landing.
A golden marketing opportunity awaited and Pillsbury took advantage of it. They used their role on Apollo 11 as a launching pad for a spin-off of the product which they imaginatively dubbed Space Food Sticks. The Tootsie Roll-like candy came in several flavors including caramel, chocolate, malt, mint, orange and the ever-popular peanut butter. And, thanks to NASA, they were an immediate hit with youngsters. Aficionados will recall that the Space Food Sticks came wrapped in special foil to give them a space age look. The front of each pack featured an illustration of an anonymous astronaut happily chomping on a Space Food Stick. The box also clarified the important role the development sticks played "in support of the U.S. Aerospace Program."
Pillsbury's aggressive marketing ruffled a few a feathers in the nation's capital. One year after Space Food Sticks were introduced, the Bureau of Deceptive Practices undertook an investigation of Pillsbury's claim they were "ounce for ounce" as nutritious as milk. A document issued by the company in response--available at NASA's archives--asserted the snacks were "suitable as total food replacement" in the unlikely chance that no other foods were available.
The astronautic diet never caught on, which perhaps was fortunate for species Humana. Novelties like Moon Cheeze were fun, but the idea of floating around in zero gravity trying to satiate your appetite on strawberry food cubes didn't sound so satisfying on reflection. Eventually, and perhaps inevitably, the brief vogue of space foods subsided and Space Food Sticks yielded their cutting-edge status to Pop Rocks and other forms of techno-candy.
Pillsbury ultimately stopped making Space Food Sticks but their legacy lived on in "energy bars" and similar food supplements which are sold in health food stores. And there are other remnants of the "bad old days" which are also available. Freeze-dried meals can be found at camping stores and are sold as souvenirs at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum and other museum gift shops.