Space Food, the Final Frontier

Bagged lunch just wasn’t groovy in the ’60s or ’70s without a couple of Space Food Sticks jammed in between the olive-loaf sandwich and the Fritos. Sci-fi fan blog io9 ignited a storm of nostalgia within me with a vintage Space Food Sticks commercial, along with some memories:

1969 was a great year to be seven-going-on-eight: astronauts were getting ready to land on the moon—and for spellbound earthlings, there were Space Food Sticks. As this vintage ad explains, Space Food Sticks were developed “to meet the demands of a long spaceflight” by the nice folks at Pillsbury. (Can you imagine any product today proclaiming on its box that it was “developed . . . under a government contract”?)

All of the science-y trappings of the sticks weren’t just marketing. Pillsbury actually did work with NASA to create a food that could be eaten in zero gravity, replacing the squeezable tubes of food available to the first astronauts. Retrofuture Products, which produces reformulated replicas of the original Space Food Sticks, explains:

A battery of food scientists at Pillsbury, lead by Dr. Howard Bauman, whipped up an energy stick that was actually edible. The long chewy stick could slide into an airtight port located in an astronaut’s helmet to provide essential nutrition in case of an emergency. Pillsbury released a commercial spin-off of their cosmic creation, imaginatively dubbing the product Space Food Sticks.

Described as a ‘non-frozen balanced energy snack in rod form containing nutritionally balanced amounts of carbohydrate, fat and protein,’ the original energy bars came in several flavors including caramel, chocolate, malt, mint, orange and the ever-popular peanut butter. Aficionados will recall that the Space Food Sticks were wrapped in special foil to give them an added space-age appearance.

Space Food Sticks actually did accompany the Skylab 3 mission in 1973. Maybe they were an improvement on toothpaste-tube food (so bad that one astronaut’s decision to sneak a sandwich on board sparked a congressional investigation). But here on Earth they didn’t actually taste that great. io9 calls the flavor “chalky and indistinct, less like the glorious future and more like the smell of Grandma’s denture cup.” Others liken them to PowerBars, with “[c]oncentrated fake chocolate flavor in a chewy base” or “chocolate flavored rubber bands.” But why trust other people’s memories when you can order your own box?

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