Wednesday, September 9, 2009

(empo-tymshft) Tang today

In an earlier post in this series, I wondered what young people think of IBM today. As a follow-up to that question, I wonder what they think of Tang, if they even think of it.

Now certainly people my age think of Tang, and we associate it with a victorious chapter in the Cold War against the evil Russian Soviet commies. In fact, if I recall correctly, it was President John F. Kennedy that declared our national intentions in a May 1961 speech:

I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of giving a man an orange-flavored drink and having him safely consume it while in Earth orbit. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.

Or perhaps I remembered it incorrectly. But heck, it seemed to me like Tang was a major part of the battle against evil.

The truth, as you can guess, was somewhat different:

Tang was trademarked in 1957 (U.S. Patent & Trademark Office registration #1974439) and introduced to the American public in 1959. It was invented as a modern breakfast beverage, not commissioned by the U.S. space program.

A few years later, after Kennedy had already died, NASA entered the Tang picture.

On the earliest of American space flights, food wasn't an issue. The sub-orbital hops made by Alan Shepard and Gus Grissom were each less than a half hour long; if the pilots were hungry, they could wait until they returned to the ground.

As space flights became longer though, the need for food sent NASA looking for microgravity-friendly solutions.

The most famous of these early space foods was not a food at all but rather a drink. Ask someone to name what astronauts consume and you are more than likely to hear in reply "Tang"....

"The myth though, is that Tang was developed for the space program. The actual truth is [that] General Foods was making its travel drink mix and NASA thought, 'Oh, this is how we should be flying our beverages.' So we purchased the already made and commercially available product."

And speaking of commercials, Tang quickly capitalized on its new buyer with this "have a blast" commercial:

The theme continued into the 1970s, long after Kennedy's goal had been accomplished. This commercial shows some lunar people trading their local moon rocks for Tang.

But the novelty of moon travel wore off, and no human has left Earth orbit in over 30 years. And things have changed on Earth, also. General Foods no longer exists, having been entirely swallowed and digested by Kraft. And even William Mitchell, the man who formulated Tang for General Foods, was more widely recognized as the inventor of Pop Rocks. And someone created a really ugly MySpace page for Tang. Guess the color.


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