armchair cultural observation since 1995

Was Tang In Space A Farce?

“Tang is a farce. That was the first thing Neil Armstrong told me last night. ‘We did not use it on the Apollo missions.'”
Steve Jurvetson

Though it’s understandable to associate Tang with the historic Apollo missions, Neil Armstrong, as he alludes to in the above quote, didn’t have the drink pumping through his veins when he was taking a giant leap for mankind. This might come as a surprise to many that the most famous of all the U.S. astronauts didn’t drink and apparently didn’t like Tang. But it’s no reason to dispense of the whole association.

John Glenn, who was quite a big deal before Armstrong’s Apollo 11 team made it to the moon, had the drink on the menu for a Mercury flight seven years earlier and some subsequent Gemini missions. It was Tang’s appearance on the space flight menu that apparently triggered the marketing that to do this day associates the drink with space and not the other way around.

In fact, the two are so closely linked in American culture, many have assumed that it was the space program that invented the powdery orange drink. The drink was invented by legendary food scientist William A. Mitchell, he of Pop Rocks, Cool Whip and Jell-O. Mitchell formulated the drink in 1957 for General Food Corporation and it went to market in 1959.

Sales of the new drink weren’t all that stellar until John Glenn and crew took it along on the 1962 Mercury flight and several Gemini missions that followed. That’s when the General Foods marketing department kicked in with advertising like the one below showing the drink in use in space.

Other examples of the space connection in marketing are a brochure called The History of Manned Space Flight with a two-page spread on Tang and a magazine ad stating that it was Chosen for the Gemini astronauts and for the Ryans. You can can buy both of these cultural artifacts on eBay.

Suffice it to say, Neil Armstrong’s off-the-cuff “farce” comment to venture capitalist, photographer, and space fanatic Steve Jurvetson was essentially not much more than a case of crusty old man hyperbole.

Just because he didn’t drink Tang in space doesn’t mean it wasn’t something other astronauts, including the first American to orbit the Earth, didn’t. Rest easy knowing that sugary drink in your cabinet that’s not exactly the best thing for you to have for breakfast and its legacy in the history of U.S. space travel is safe.

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