A Space Shuttle Tradition that’s Full of Beans

by Nancy Atkinson on April 5, 2010

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Even though today’s space shuttle launch took place during the early morning hours (Kennedy Space Center local time) the post-launch celebration meal for the launch control team consisted of hearty helpings of beans and cornbread. But that’s nothing new. Every single successful space shuttle launch since the very beginning of the shuttle program has been followed by beans and cornbread. It’s a tradition.

Even though the the Launch Control Center at Kennedy Space Center is one of the most unique “offices” in the world, like many other places of work, people bring in food to share with their co-workers. The story goes that when the launch teams were preparing for the very first shuttle flight in 1981, people would bring in covered dishes so the teams would have food during the long hours of tests and simulations. Norm Carlson, one of the test directors brought in a crockpot of beans along with some cornbread, and after the flawless STS-1 lift-off, the hungry team members rapidly consumed the delicious beans and cornbread.

Norm Carlson serving up his beans. Credit: Kennedy Space Center


So, for the next flight, Carlson brought in two crockpots of beans and additional cornbread. Again, the beans and cornbread disappeared after STS-2.

A page on the KSC website tells the story:

“On each subsequent launch, Mr. Carlson kept bringing more crock pots filled with beans, and on each subsequent launch the beans would disappear in short order.

Finally, sensing that it was getting too difficult to bring in enough crock pots to feed everyone, Mr. Carlson switched to an 18 quart cooker, and set up shop on the fourth floor of the LCC, just above the firing rooms. The call “Beans are Go!” came to signal that the shuttle had successfully launched, and it was time to relax and unwind.”

The tradition continued, even after Carlson retired and now 60 gallons of beans are prepared for every launch as an official NASA function.

Since the phrase “full of beans” means having lots of energy and enthusiasm, it seems fitting that beans are part of the space shuttle tradition at KSC, and that tradition will undoubtedly live on along with the amazing legacy that the shuttle program encompasses. It seems almost unbelievable that perhaps only three more space shuttles will take flight.

The Inside KSC Blog provides what is thought to be the original recipe for Carlson’s beans:

Norm Carlson’s Space Beans Recipe

6 pounds Great Northern dried beans
10 pounds ham cut into cubes, plus ham bones
3 pounds chopped onions
2 stalks celery
1/2 shaker lemon pepper
1 teaspoon Liquid Smoke

Cover with water in an 18-quart electric cooker and cook 8-12 hours.

Sources: KSC website, Inside KSC blog

About 

Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also is the host of the NASA Lunar Science Institute podcast and works with Astronomy Cast. Nancy is also a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

weeasle April 6, 2010 at 2:53 AM

Nice story. Thanks Nancy :)

Now we know why the shuttle (team) has so much thrust ;)

Sili April 6, 2010 at 5:23 AM

At first I read this as being a pre-launch like the Russian ones.

I could only think what a horrible idea! Beans for astronauts?!

I’m glad I read that more closely.

Aqua April 6, 2010 at 9:27 AM

Can you imagine? “My visor’s fogged up!” ACK!

Brian Sheen April 7, 2010 at 12:47 AM

Great to learn about another super tradition.

What will they do when all the Shuttles are launched?

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