June 3, 2012
Space Food Sticks Still Available in 2012!
Gen Xers didn't witness the moon landing or the associated space and NASA-related fads that emerged from that great American adventure. (In fact, our collective "space" memories may very well be the Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster which took place on January 28, 1986.) But that doesn't mean leftovers from the 1969 moon adventure didn't remain around for years after, one of which was known initially as Space Food Sticks.
Pillsbury was the company who marketed the product, although Pillsbury became a division of bigger agri-business rival General Mills in 2001. According to the legend, in the formative years of space travel, food represented a major hurdle for NASA technicians. Keeping it fresh, tasty (or at least, edible, meaning it didn't test the astronauts' collective gag reflexes) as well as safe was tricky. The early astronauts were given sustinence in the form of cubes covered with edible gelatin or semi-liquid food puree squeezed out of a toothpaste-like tube.
Apparently, Pillsbury lent its support to NASA, but saw an opportunity to catch a little "moon fever" for their company, leading to the creation of what were known, at least initially, as Space Food Sticks.
A battery of food scientists at Pillsbury, lead by a guy known as Dr. Howard Bauman, whipped up an energy stick that was actually tasty (even if the nutritional value wasn't much better than a Snickers bar). They tasted like a cross between a tootsie roll, and Play-Doh. They didn't stick to your teeth the way candy did, and were promoted as nutritious, although an examination of the ingredients list today suggests otherwise.
In any event, the long, chewy sticks could slide into an airtight port located in an astronaut's helmet to provide essential nutrition in case of an emergency. Needless to say, Pillsbury released a commercial spin-off of their cosmic creation, imaginatively dubbing the product Space Food Sticks. If the prompters are to be believed, in 1973, a version of Space Food Sticks made its way onto the Skylab 3 mission.
The Beginning of the End for Space Food Sticks ... For a While, Anyway
At some point, though, the fad had run it's course, and according to the historians on this subject, after the energy crisis of the mid-1970s, the space program took a back seat to other pressing issues. The product's profile was further reduced when Pillsbury dropped the "Space" from the name and distributed them as Food Sticks. The word energy bar hadn't been invented yet. Slowly but inevitably the fabled Sticks gradually disappeared from supermarket shelves. By the 1980s, they had become a memory.
Space Food Sticks' Resurrection
People still remember these things, and I'm pleased to share that a new form of these things is still available. In 2001, a company effectively resurrected Space Food Sticks. For example, you can find them at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, as well as retailers like New York's famed toy retailer FAO Schwartz (as I understand it, FAO Schwartz has been owned by Toys R Us for over a decade, even though it's been something that was never promoted as New Yorkers like to believe their institutions are safe from the Wall Street greed mongers that work downtown, but I digress ...). The flavor of the resurrected sticks tastes the same as I recall them, although the shape is a bit more bar-like, not the skinny, rounded sticks I was used to -- I simply sliced them to make them more like the shape I remembered.
What's even better is today, you can order these pieces of food history online.
Just visit http://spacefoodsticks.com/ where you can find all kinds of stuff on Space Food Sticks, including history, historical advertisements, and even TV commercials from the original launch of these things. They also have an online store, and they sell two flavors: chocolate and peanut butter (these were the better tasting of the two in my humble opinion). The company now selling these things is based in the town where I used to live (check out this YouTube clip for more on the manufacturing of the product), so the delivery was next-day for me, but I can tell you, they taste pretty much as I remembered them. The company claims:
"We hired internationally-renowned food scientist Mario Medri to re-engineer the formula based on original ingredients and existing samples. Without Mario's random act of kindness (he didn't know us but he could tell we had passion) Space Food Sticks would be a distant memory. Mario introduced us to Kalman Vadasz, the "Michelangelo" of the confectionary business for over 40 years, to recreate the taste and texture of the originals. The results exceeded our wildest expectations. We hope you agree."
My memories may not be as vivid as others, but I think they taste pretty darn close.
Author P.S., December 7, 2014: This was posted on their Facebook page today: "We lost our manufacturer (insert sad emoticon here) so Space Food Sticks are officially out-of-circulation BUT we hope to re-launch the Sticks in a better-than-ever formula in 2015. We're looking at some new manufacturers but if you know anybody who can help let us know!" The reason seems to be they "got washed out by a private equity group" according to an article published by Vice (see http://bit.ly/2dY2T14 for more).