Space Food Sticks

Space food sticks are linked indelibly with the first trips to space and they were very popular in the space race era due to this connection. If you have not heard of these snacks, that is because they were discontinued in the 1980s when the original space race craze officially ended. This being said, they occupy a special place in the fabric of snacking history that should not be forgotten.

If you ever visited any kind of science-based theme park or location as a child in the 1960s to the 1980s, you might have interacted with these strange and slightly wonderful snacks. For kids that were born after the 80s, the interest in space-viable food was a thing of the past, but for the children that were born during the age of interest in space, space food sticks were much like other items that were sold to them due to the interest in space travel.

Space Food Sticks

History of Space Food Sticks

These snacks were originally made by Pillsbury in the 1960s when the space race had captured the national imagination. The company’s chief food technology expert, Howard Bauman, was interested in creating food that could be sent to space and also sold to consumers.

Bauman and his team created the first solid foods that were eaten by an astronaut in 1962 when food cubes that they crafted were eaten by Scott Carpenter on the Aurora 7 in 1962. Space food cubes were the direct descendant of these products that were actually sent into space and were marketed to the space curious in the 60s and beyond.

Pillsbury went all in on this concept during this period and made things like meat that needed no refrigeration and cakes that did not need to be baked. These early forays into non-frozen foods that would be safe to eat in space were symptomatic of the fascination with space travel at this time. Space Food Sticks were a natural marketing outcropping of the space race and were enjoyed by many children during this period.

In 1970, Pillsbury filed for a patent for their non-frozen foods. The actual patent was for “non—frozen balance energy snacks in rod form containing nutritionally balanced amounts of carbohydrate, fat, and protein”. These items were dubbed “space food sticks” and the term “nutritionally balanced” was added later.

These products were the predecessors to the modern energy bar and were made with the idea and slogan behind them that they would feed you even in the vacuum of space. Pillsbury promoted these items with their association with NASA extensively to help get sales for these rather boring and odd treats. The Apollo Space mission drove interest in these snack items and packs of space food sticks were sold with 14 individually packaged sticks each.

The astronauts on Skylab 3 in 1972 ate modified versions of these snacks and stated that they were easy to digest. There were six flavors at this time, including peanut butter, caramel, and chocolate. These flavors might not have been immediately recognizable to those who liked the real items that they were based upon, but the novelty of the eating experience was enough for people to want to buy them.

Space Food Sticks were taken off the shelves of supermarkets in the 1980s. The space race was over and the fascination with odd food items was over. The product was revived by Retrofuture Products of New York in 2006, however. The company released two flavors which were chocolate and peanut butter. The Kennedy Space Center and the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum sold these items and they were sold online as well.

Production again stopped in 2014. Australia sold Space Food Sticks for many years more than the product was sold in the US. They sold chocolate and caramel flavors only but they sold them under the Nestle brand name. Production ended for these items at the end of 2014 and they made a brief reappearance in 2019 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the moon landing.

Space Food Sticks and Tang

Space Food Sticks and Tang were inextricably linked at first because both were given to those who went to space. The original group of astronauts were fed the dubious choice of semi-liquid food puree and cubes of edible gelatin. Tang was also on the menu, which led to the connection between Space Food Sticks and this other product that was sent to space in the early years.

Space Food Sticks as sold to the US market, were much more edible than what the early astronauts were forced to consume. Space Food Sticks were even included in the airtight ports inside astronauts’ helmets in case of emergency. Tang was also considered to be essential to space survival and got years of sales off of this connection in the US.

While it sounds a little funny now, the Space Food Sticks and Tang legacy are of great import in the US. The space race was a unique time of national pride and few food and snack items can claim to have been connected so closely to the space race and what it stood for in the minds of Americans at this time.

Space Food Sticks in Popular Culture

The Simpsons mentioned the Space Food Stick in episodes of the show. Space Food Sticks were also mentioned in “Super 8” as well as the R.L. Stine books. This strange product was not usually connected with a good taste experience. Their kind of popularity was well-connected with the idea of a strange and eccentric product.

This food item was totally unique when sold as a viable food item for people in the US who were not living space, but the popularization of this food item was almost an accident in the long run. There are many reasons that this food product was connected readily to comedic shows, but at the time of the release of the product, it was taken as seriously as the space race itself.

There is something delightful about this product being connected with popular culture as a serious food item that could sustain life and then later as the butt of some jokes on a comedy cartoon show. Space foods and freeze-dried foods have been linked for years to hiking and outdoor hardship, but these other popular culture references have driven most of the interest in these specific products. The airing of shows that mentioned this product by name was so unique that they revived interest in a product that should have been well and truly unpopular at this point.

Space Food Sticks are arguably the grandparents of quick-to-eat bars like hiking and energy snacks and it is unlikely that these other efficient foods would exist without Space Food Sticks.

Early Energy Snacks

The taste profile of energy snacks has not changed much since Space Food Sticks were first made. Many people have experienced the truly gritty and less-than-ideal taste of modern energy bars. It is easy to draw a straight line between the life-sustaining but boring components of the Space Food Stick and the modern energy bar.

If you have experienced hiking and camping food or MREs, you probably know all there is to know about the modern energy bar and the less well-known Space Food Sticks product of the space race era. For those who love the taste profile of this kind of food, it is probably too bad that the Space Food Stick product is no longer sold or placed on shelves in your local grocery store. For those who are not a fan of this gritty and less-than-ideal snack, it is often a relief that these snacks were not lastingly popular overall.

Energy bars and trail mix might be slightly more flavorful than the Space Food Sticks that were given to astronauts in the 60s, but it is probably a close race. It might be interesting if the original product was still made, to have taste testers compare the two items and discuss the differences between them. There might actually be more similarities than differences!

Varieties of Space Food Sticks

  • Peanut butter
  • Caramel
  • Chocolate

These flavors are common for items that are overall good for nutrient delivery and not so great for taste. You will find that many hiking bars and total meal bars are also flavored with these general flavors to help prevent people from being unable to consume these products due to a terrible natural flavor.

Peanut butter and chocolate can cover a multitude of sins and many practical food items dealers will use these flavor profiles to help cover up the taste of less-than-ideal ingredients tastewise. In the “health-food” space, the flavors of peanut butter and chocolate are often a sign that there is a less than enjoyable flavor profile that is being covered up by the added flavors within the item. This may not bother you, and the novelty might be enough for you to enjoy the product anyway, but these flavor profiles in these kinds of foods can warn of underlying taste experiences that are not ideal.

Pictures of Space Food Sticks

Commercials for Space Food Sticks

This is a common print ad:

Space Food Sticks Advertisements

A video ad:

Leave a Comment