On the final day of their historic mission, the Apollo 11 crew prepared for returning to Earth.
They splashed down in the Pacific Ocean on 24 July 1969 at 12:49 p.m. EDT. They were about 812 nautical miles southwest of Hawaii and 12 nautical miles from their ride, the USS Hornet. They would be in quarantine for three weeks.
Inside the command module: Neil Armstrong (commander), Buzz Aldrin (lunar module pilot) and Michael Collins (command module pilot). They left Cape Kennedy, Florida on 16 July. They initiated re-entry procedures on 24 July, 44 hours after leaving lunar orbit.
Pre-flight, astronauts ate specially prepared, low-fibre, highly nutritious meals. One big challenge to eating in space: crumbs. On Gemini 3, John Young had smuggled a corned beef sandwich. “Pretty good though, if it would just hold together.”
In the weightless environment of space, [crumbs] could find their way behind electrical panels or fly into a crew member’s eye. NASA’s Gemini 3 press kit described how a gelatin layer was added to food items to avoid just such a problem.
In addition to being crumb-free, astronauts needed food that was “lightweight, easy to prepare and consume, long-lasting with no need for refrigeration.”
Did you know that Nestlé supported Apollo 11, the historic space expedition that saw humans set foot on the moon? In the early years of the space program, NASA asked Nestlé to develop bite-sized food. Learn more: https://t.co/C0IPgGMWS5 #History #Nestle #FlashbackFriday pic.twitter.com/lY1tFzq93m
— Nestlé (@Nestle) May 22, 2020
During their eight days away, the Apollo 11 astronauts had two different meals:
- Meal A was bacon squares, peaches, sugar cookie cubes and both coffee and a pineapple-grapefruit drink.
- Meal B was beef stew, cream of chicken soup, date fruitcake, grape punch and an orange drink.
Apollo astronauts were the first to have hot water, making that coffee possible. The coffee was delivered via a pouch, like all beverages.
Nestlé had just finished developing a freeze-drying process that retained coffee’s original aroma and flavors. In the end, Taster’s Choice, the American equivalent of Nescafé Gold, made the cut – and landed on the astronauts’ menu.
Of course the orange drink was Tang.
Once the astronauts were in quarantine on the USS Hornet, they did not have not enough room for a full kitchen in the modified Airstream trailer.
Without Apollo, the microwave ovens many of us have in our kitchens or the ready meals millions consume every day, might never have been developed.
NASA had asked Litton Industries to shrink their “giant walk-in microwave ovens” sufficiently to fit the quarantine area.
While traveling on the Hornet, the astronauts used a microwave “to reheat three frozen meals a day. These included full cooked breakfasts, ribs of beef and even lobster.” Those frozen meals? Stouffer’s.
During the Apollo 11 mission, Stouffer's was tapped to provide meals for the returning crew while in isolation. The team at Stouffer's, including Sara Thompson (pictured here), were committed to providing safe, high-quality microwaveable food for the astronauts. #SmithsonianBHM pic.twitter.com/3YgERSe5GD
— National Air and Space Museum (@airandspace) February 28, 2022
Not surprising, then, that “Everyone who has been to the moon is eating Stouffer’s” became Stouffer’s tagline in 1969. (Stouffer’s is part of Nestle.)
Mission Control would modify the Apollo food system after learning that “inflight food consumption proved inadequate to maintain nutritional balance and body weight.” For example, Neil Armstrong lost 8.8 pounds during Apollo 11; Jim Lovell, 13.2 pounds during Apollo 13.
Charles Fishman, writing about Apollo 11 on its 50th anniversary, Smithsonian Magazine:
When President John F. Kennedy declared in 1961 that the United States would go to the Moon, he was committing the nation to do something we simply couldn’t do. We didn’t have the tools or equipment—the rockets or the launchpads, the spacesuits or the computers or the micro-gravity food. And it isn’t just that we didn’t have what we would need; we didn’t even know what we would need. We didn’t have a list; no one in the world had a list. Indeed, our unpreparedness for the task goes a level deeper: We didn’t even know how to fly to the Moon. We didn’t know what course to fly to get there from here… we didn’t know what we would find when we got there. Physicians worried that people wouldn’t be able to think in micro-gravity conditions. Mathematicians worried that we wouldn’t be able to calculate how to rendezvous two spacecraft in orbit—to bring them together in space and dock them in flight both perfectly and safely.
A nation determined to accomplish something big and worthwhile can do it, even when the goal seems beyond reach, even when the nation is divided. Kennedy said of the Apollo mission that it was hard—we were going to the Moon precisely because doing so was hard—and that it would “serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills.” And measure the breadth of our spirit as well.
Three times as many people worked on Apollo as on the Manhattan Project to create the atomic bomb. In 1961, the year Kennedy formally announced Apollo, NASA spent $1 million [$9.8 million in 2022 dollars] on the program for the year. Five years later NASA was spending about $1 million [$9.3 million in 2022 dollars] every three hours on Apollo, 24 hours a day [emphasis added].
NASA was the first organization of any kind—company or government agency—anywhere in the world to give computer chips responsibility for human life. If the chips could be depended on to fly astronauts safely to the Moon, they were probably good enough for computers that would run chemical plants or analyze advertising data.
The full essay is worth your time and attention.