Ah, astronauts. Unlike the majority of my peers growing up, I never wanted to be one of you. (I always thought I was destined to become the sixth, youngest and only American member of the Spice Girls.) But I sure as hell respected you — especially after seeing that one episode of "The Magic School Bus" where Ms. Frizzle gets lost in space.
So, when I was presented with a chalky piece of "astronaut ice cream" as a child, I didn't hesitate — I ate the freeze-dried strawberry square. If it was good enough for astronauts to snack on in orbit, the compressed little cubes (which usually come in strawberry, vanilla, chocolate or Neapolitan mix flavors) were good enough for me.
Actually, they were pretty gross. But they had the word astronaut in them, so I ate them anyway.
However, in a game-changing statement by the National Air and Space Museum to Vox, it turns out that astronaut ice cream wasn't necessarily used on any space missions.
That’s right. As Stephen Colbert says, astronaut ice cream — the “brick of sweetened sidewalk chalk” — is a lie (video below).
According to a recent investigation by Vox: “The Apollo 7 press kit, released before the mission, does mention ‘vanilla ice cream,’ as does one 1968 UPI article. There's also a smattering of technical documents that mention the development of some sort of ice cream in space — but none that can confirm the existence of ice cream on board.”
This actually makes sense. First of all, there are technical obstacles to crumbly food like astronaut ice cream when it comes to space. For one thing, small food particles floating around present a major safety hazard — the chalky little crumbs could float into instruments or the controls.
According to Vox, that is precisely the reason that John Young was reprimanded when he snuck a corned beef sandwich on board during the Gemini program. The risk was too high that the bread crumbs could interfere with equipment.
"How could we have something up here that crumbled and crunched?" astronaut Chris Hadfield said in a 2013 video, as reported by CNet.
In fact, Vox actually contacted Walt Cunningham, the only surviving member of the Apollo 7 crew, and questioned him about astronaut ice cream. His response?
“We never had that stuff.”
As you can hear in the video below, sweets were reviled on his particular mission; however, when Cunningham later encountered the freeze-dried “treat,” he admits that if it had been offered on Apollo 7, he would have willingly indulged in the stuff (rather than trying to pawn it off on his crew mates, like he did with his butterscotch pudding).
Luckily, with the advent of freezers and refrigerators on NASA ships, astronauts in 2016 are able to enjoy actual ice cream just like those of us bound to Earth.
Still, for a laugh, check out Stephen Colbert reclaiming his childhood as he endeavors to launch astronaut ice cream into space once and for all:
And watch Vox's original investigation below: