Did you know that pecans were the first nuts to be taken to the moon? It’s true, and though we’d like to picture astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin each happily munching on a Stuckey’s pecan log roll on what must have felt like the longest road trip ever, alas, the truth is, however, they were actually half a dozen, bite-sized pecan halves in a laminated plastic package. Nevertheless, the intriguing subject of our blog today is the story behind how pecans became the first nut on the moon.

History has provided us with many examples of how early explorers and travelers developed methods to store their foods so they lasted on their long journeys. For example, early explorers like Columbus, Magellan and Cook took dried foods and food that was preserved in salt and brine aboard their sailing ships for their crew on their long voyages at sea.

Supplying spaceships and their crews for long voyages in space, on the other hand, was a different story.   Being a NASA food scientist during the early space missions required a lot creativity as the team had to address a variety of challenges while coming up with a space food menu including expanding the shelf life of food while also keeping it high in nutrition and low in weight; otherwise, in microgravity, their space cuisine might just fly apart. As a result, a variety of menus and space food packaging were developed that provided 2500 or more calories a day to every astronaut who flew into space.

The First Space Meals

John Glenn Simultaneously Becomes The First American To Eat Applesauce And Orbit The Earth. Image by NASA via National Air and Space Museum

The first American to orbit the Earth was John H. Glenn, Jr., who circled the planet three times on February 20, 1962 aboard the Friendship 7 Mercury spacecraft. During his 4 hour, 55 minute, and 23 second flight, he was also the first American to eat in space, because, hey, there’s nothing like having a little snack on the road to the moon landing. So, what did he eat? Applesauce packed in a tube similar to those we use for toothpaste. Not exactly the kind of meals they were offering to first-class passengers on early 1960s Pan-Am jetliners, but scientists at NASA weren’t even sure if a human could ingest and digest nutrients in space just yet, so it was more of an experiment than anything else.

Later during the same flight, Glenn also consumed another tube containing pureed beef and vegetables. Though he experienced no problems in chewing, drinking, swallowing, or digesting meals in a weightless environment, Glenn and his fellow astronauts on other Mercury missions continued to be served pureed food packed into aluminum tubes that allowed them to squeeze it directly into their mouths or suck it through a straw. In the end, however, they did not find the food to be very delicious at all.

Space Food in the Gemini Program

Because of the lack of gravity in space, astronauts don’t use as much energy which means they don’t burn as many calories. As a result, Gemini program astronauts were given meals adding up to only 2500 calories a day. The food also had changed from tubes to the more lightweight freeze dried foods that were coated with a gelatin oil to keep them from crumbling.

To prepare their food, astronauts would take a freeze-dried meal and rehydrate it by using a water gun to inject cold water into the package. Then they would cut the package open with scissors and eat the contents. Typical meals for Gemini spacecraft crews were beef sandwiches, beef and gravy, peaches and strawberry cereal cubes.

Apollo’s More Sophisticated Space Food

Like the Gemini crews, the astronauts of the Apollo missions were also served freeze dried foods, but their caloric intake was raised to 2800 calories a day. The Apollo missions also used a more sophisticated gun that rehydrated dehydrated food using both hot and cold water.

During the Apollo 8 mission, the crew was in space on Christmas Eve in 1968. As a result, they were surprised when they discovered they were provided with a Christmas meal in space consisting of thermo-stabilized turkey with gravy and cranberry sauce that didn’t have to be hydrated and could be eaten with a spoon.

Apollo 8 Christmas Dinner 1968 including from left to right: wrapped teaspoon, grape drink, cranberry applesauce, coffee, and turkey and gravy.

During the Apollo 11 mission, meals for each astronaut were wrapped in foil and color coded. The Apollo 11 menu for Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin reportedly included beef and vegetables, pork with potato scallops, and Canadian bacon and apple sauce — all out of a package. Additionally, snack food items such as pecans were provided to the Apollo 11 crew and, as a result, became the first nut on the moon.

Pecans Taken Aboard Apollo 16. Image by National Air and Space Museum

The pecan was the perfect choice for a space snack food aboard Apollo 11 because they can be stored without refrigeration, they can be eaten under weightless conditions, and at the same time they’re nutritious and  lightweight. The pecan space food package contained small portions of real roasted pecans for easy chewing and were packed using a 4-ply, laminated film coating that protected them from flavor loss, moisture and oxygen invasion, and spoiling.

Let Stuckey’s Deliver Pecans, Pecan Log Rolls, Pecan Candies, or Other Stuckey’s Merchandise Directly to Your Home.

Because of their benefits to the space food program, pecans were also included on the Apollo 13 and Apollo 16 missions, as well, becoming part of the American space food tradition. And while we’re not sure if we can petition Elon Musk to make the Stuckey’s pecan roll part of the mission to Mars program today, we are sure that you can still get all of your favorite pecan treats right here on Earth at your nearest Stuckey’s locations.

So, hey America…come on by and get some fine pecan candies or a few souvenirs from Stuckey’s for the folks back home to enjoy. And while you’re driving back home at night and munching on your very own Stuckey’s pecan log roll, look up at the moon and remember the humble pecan, won’t you?

One more interesting fact about pecans and space before we go: Did you know that it would take a line of over 10 billion pecans to reach the moon? But, heck, we’d go farther than that to deliver Stuckey’s pecan log rolls and other find pecan candies and Stuckey’s merchandise right to your door. Find out how by visiting us at stuckeys.com today! And be sure to keep an eye out for Stuckey’s Lucky Nuts coming soon to a Stuckey’s location near you!