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Space Food Sticks

Space Food Sticks: If you were born after 1970 chances are good you’ve never heard of these things. Before there was such a thing as “energy bars”, there were these.

In the 1960’s, the world was space crazy. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldren had made it to the Moon, and anything with the word “space” in front of it sold like mad.

Every kid wanted to be an astronaut – and a lot of the science fiction from the 60’s depended on the use of the word “Space” to sell the audience. It was “space this” and “space that”. Kind of like the same way Adam West used to refer to anything he used by putting the word “bat” in front of it. Any man named Adam West who can do the bat-tusi is my hero. But I digress.

Granola bars in space?

They were more like um..

Hm.

How to explain this.

It all began because astronauts, like everybody else, have to eat. The trick was to make something stored well for extended periods of time, could be eaten without benefit of gravity and still be safe enough to eat, within vague definitions of “safe”.

Space food up to that time was either cubes of something suspended in gelatin, or came out of something like a toothpaste tube. It looked like spoiled toothpaste and probably tasted like it. The only interesting thing to drink was Tang, an artificial orange flavored beverage made from powder mixed with water. The only other real option was, of course, water.

Once the public found out the space program was using Tang, it became wildly popular – so much so that the Pillsbury Corporation saw a chance to capitalize on public’s fascination with space travel and worked with NASA to make a new kind of snack food that could actually be used in space.

They were sort of like tootsie rolls but were a tad “foamier”, if that makes any sense. Space Food Sticks came in about half a dozen flavors. They were about as big around as your little finger, and were about five or six inches long. After the initial interest, sales began to slack off, though Space Food Sticks did make it to Skylab in 1973. Yoda stole what looked like the food sticks from Luke’s backpack in The Empire Strikes Back. By the year 2000, though, interest in the strange snack waned. The last Space Food Sticks disappeared from store shelves completely.

Space Food Sticks Return

And then something even stranger than the flavored chewy rods of carbohydrate themselves happened: in 2001, Retrofuture Products’ owner Eric Lefcowitz launched his website Retrofuture.com, and one of the articles on the site contained a reference to Space Food Sticks.

People started Googling the site trying to find out what happened to the snacks. In  2001, Lefcowitz launched founded the “Space Food Sticks Preservation Society” at Spacefoodsticks.com.  Interest was so keen than Lefcowitz connected with world-renowned food scientists to reverse engineer what Space Food Sticks tasted like.  I’ve read reports from people who have tried the new sticks, and they’re very close to the original. 

In October 2006 two flavors of Space Food Sticks — chocolate and peanut butter — were launched by Retrofuture Products. Today Space Food Sticks are sold at the Kennedy Space Center, Smithsonian Air & Space Museum, the Johnson Space Center, the Museum of Flight, Disney World, American Museum of Natural History, and the Adler Planetarium. Of course, you can order them online as well.

It’s an amazing story, and brings back memories of the Moon Madness that gripped the imagination of the entire world.

I think I’ll order some and lay in a supply.  I wish they made butterscotch flavored ones.  Those were my favorite.

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Gene Turnbow
Gene Turnbow

President of Krypton Media Group, Inc., radio personality and station manager of SCIFI.radio. Part writer, part animator, part musician, part illustrator, part programmer, part entrepreneur – all geek.

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