Vintage Space Fun Fact: Tang in Space

When people think about what NASA has done for the Earth-bound among us, most cite the invention of space foam and Tang among its greatest accomplishments. That’s not entirely true. Offshoots of technologies NASA has developed have given us things like LASIK eye surgery and the ability to turn on appliances remotely from our smartphones. Also, NASA didn’t invent Tang. But Tang’s story does run parallel to NASA’s. (Left, a 1960s advertisement for Tang with an image of a Gemini spacecraft in orbit that draws a comparison between the astronauts and the average consumer. Clever marketing.)

It starts with Charles William “C. W.” Post who was introduced to corn flakes before the rest of the world. He visited the Battle Creek Sanitarium, run by John Harvey Kellogg with his brother William Keith, for his failing in the early 1890s. The Kellogg brothers had developed the dry cereal for their patients as well as Postum, a cereal beverage Post preferred to coffee since he shied away from caffein. Taken by these prepared foods, Post founded the Postum Cereal Co. in 1895. After its creator’s suicide and a series of corporate deals, Postum became General Foods Corporation in 1929. In 1941, Dr. William A. Mitchell joined the company.

Mitchell was a food chemist who received over 70 patents in his 35 years with the company. He is the man behind Pop Rocks, Jell-O, Cool Whip, powdered eggs whites, and Tang. (Right, Mitchell. Image credit: poprockscandy.com)

Tang first appeared on the market as an orange-flavoured breakfast drink in 1957. In 1959, its more recognizable powdered form arrived on shelves. It was mostly sugar — 9 grams in each 8 ounce serving — but it was also packed with vitamin C, vitamin A, calcium, and vitamin E.

Sales were poor until 1962 when John Glenn drank Tang in orbit. His Friendship 7 flight was the first time an astronaut would be in space long enough to need food and drink — Shepard’s and Grissom’s suborbital flights were too short. Millions watching the mission saw Glenn eat applesauce and drink Tang out of a bag. It was a space age treat moms could bring home for their children from the supermarket. Sales skyrocketed. (Left, another space-age ad for Tang.)

NASA gave Tang another boost during the Gemini program when it chose the drink to accompany astronauts during increasingly long duration missions. Footage from the missions was even used in a commercial. Tang is also rumoured to have accompanied Apollo astronauts to the Moon, though there’s some speculation as to whether it was Tang or a similar powdered orange drink. There was some question about astronauts needing nutrient-heavy drinks on longer mission, low potassium was a possible problem, so it could be that the drink of choice was a Tang-like NASA creation.

Tang has since been synonymous with the space program; General Foods Corporation used Tang’s inclusion in spaceflight as a sales tool. Commercials portrayed Tang as the drink of champions, comparing children to astronauts with the message that giving a child Tang would launch him on a path to success.

General Foods Corporation went defunct in 1990 when the company was absorbed by Kraft. But Tang is still around. The powdered drink is available on Amazon and the International Space Station where it comes in mylar bags with special valves that allow it to be rehydrated without leaking. (Right, a Tang ad featuring a futuristic looking space shuttle concept.)

Suggested viewing:

1970s Tang Commercial – “Tang is for Earthmen who don’t want to be Earthbound.”

1983 Tang Commercial – “Launch your day with the goodness of Tang.”

1985 Tang Commercial – “I start him on his way with Tang.”

1966 Tang Commercial – “Have a blast. Have some Tang.”

1969 Tang Commercial – “As long as he gets his nourishment.”

1950s/1960s Tang Commercial for kids that wanted to be cowboys rather than astronauts – “Drink Tang, gang. It’s Tangeriffic.”

Comments

  1. says

    There was a Simpson’s episode where Homer called up NASA and demanded to know where he could get some Tang. FUNNIEST. EPISODE. EVER. (Deep Space Homer) Sorry to debase another fantastic article of yours, but this particular episode was one of the best written end-to-end stories ever, which included Buzz Aldrin mind you,

    • says

      If I could find a clip of Homer yelling at NASA on the phone from Moe’s I’d post it! Yes, that episode is brilliant, as is the whole fifth season.

  2. Tim Michael says

    I think Tang was sold with a little plastic wind-up version of the lunar rover vehicle. I remember the vehicle, and I associate it with Tang for some reason. Maybe it was a mail-away premium or something. We had a few of them in the house when I was 5-6 yrs. old.

    • says

      There was definitely a trend of space-themed household objects like Apollo shampoo bottles, so I wouldn’t be surprised if Tang was sold in mini lunar rovers.

  3. says

    Hi Amy –
    Do you have references for your post? I’m looking for some for a project regarding the Tang-was-invented-by-NASA myth. Feel free to email me if you have any info. Thanks!

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