March 28, 2023
NASA megarocket engineers expect to eat 50 gallons of beans

NASA megarocket engineers expect to eat 50 gallons of beans

One of the great embarrassments of NASA’s two previous moon launches is how many beans may have gone to waste.

For years, comfort food at home was motivation for the launch team, or at least a surefire way to clear a shot room at the Kennedy Space Center. Apparently, it was one of the first things a former Space Shuttle program manager thought of after learning that the Artemis mission had been cleared on September 3rd.

“Well,” wrote Wayne Hale, “no beans today.”

Artemis I, named after Apollo’s twin sister in Greek mythology, is expected to be the first deep-space flight of an astronaut capsule in 50 years. When it leaves Earth, Orion, the new spacecraft atop the Big Moon Rocket, will travel 1.3 million miles into space, including a 40,000-mile swing past the moon. It is currently scheduled to lift off during a two-hour launch window starting at 1:04 AM. ET on November 16 (although that date could easily change).

Barring storm derailments, NASA has tried to get the Space Launch System rocket off the ground twice already — once on Aug. 29 and again on Sept. 3 — but each attempt has been hampered by hardware problems. On the first try, it was a sensor that indicated one of the four main engines was not cold enough. In the last attempt, it was a liquid hydrogen leak that the engineers couldn’t overcome. No humans will be aboard Orion, but a successful test flight without a crew would allow astronauts to pilot it on its next mission, Artemis ll.

Scooping up a hearty bowl of beans after launch has been a tradition at Cape Canaveral, Florida, since STS-1, the first space shuttle flight in April 1981.

Why beans, one might ask?

Well, why not? With beans, everyone has a chance to fire up their engines.

With beans, everyone has a chance to fire up their engines.


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NASA’s test chief Norm Carlson began delivering the beans and corn after successful launches.
Credit: NASA

The ritual began with NASA test manager Norm Carlson, who brought a small bun of smoky, salty northern beans to his staff in 1981. Since then, it’s been an important custom.

Eventually, the food service crew took over the responsibility of cooking beans. Hordes of workers gathered after each shuttle launch, spooning out hundreds of bowls from 54-gallon galleys.

Carlson’s beans will take about eight hours to simmer, according to the recipe, which the space agency has made available to the public. So one has to wonder if this means a lot of Artemis beans have gone into the bin.

Besides, Jeremy Parsons, the deputy director of ground systems exploration, told reporters the day before the second launch attempt that beans and cornbread would indeed be part of the post-launch party. And at 6 a.m. on September 3, eight hours before the launch window opened, all was still well.

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Senior management has also wondered whether NASA has missed a lot of good beans, but Jim Free, associate administrator for exploration systems development, admitted he really didn’t know any beans about it. (Sorry, we couldn’t resist the pun.) When he left the launch control center both days, he didn’t see or smell any evidence, which made him curious about what would happen to all that food, he told Mashable .

“There was nothing out there,” Free said. “But I had the same thought [about what happens to the beans] when I left there.”

If the shooting room looks anything like the 1980s, Hale might have an idea of ​​what happened to them. Sometimes, on cleanup days, the beans, which had already been cooked for hours, “went into the freezer to await another countdown,” he wrote on his blog, aptly named Wayne Hale’s Blog, on March 3, 2019.

Whether they go into the freezer or the flame pit, no one gives a damn if the launch rubs off, he said.

“Talk about inciting mass launch fever,” Hale wrote. “If a sociologist writes a paper about why the NASA launch team rushed and launched when they shouldn’t have—and doesn’t mention beans and cornbread—then that paper just won’t be complete.”

With two false starts for Artemis and a few violent storms already under NASA’s belt, the beans could get a little freezer burn. Perhaps the agency will consider finding some new magic – or, maybe even a new magical fruit.

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