By the time the 1970s arrived, the Soviets had all but conceded the space race. Children of the new decade weren’t any less enamored by space though, especially anything astronaut-related. Take a powdered drink mix called Tang, for example. Once kids learned that “it’s what astronauts drank on the moon!” no more needed to be said.
Tang was introduced by General Foods all the way back in 1959, the creation of a notable food scientist named William Mitchell (notable because he also helped to develop Cool Whip, Instant Jello and Pop Rocks).
Enriched with numerous vitamins, Tang was convenient, inexpensive and … not very popular. In fact, we might not have ever heard of Tang, were it not for the events of 1962.
When NASA was conducting early eating experiments, one of the items they gave John Glenn to try on his Mercury mission was Tang. Although he admitted later that he didn’t like the stuff at all, his consumption allowed General Foods to market Tang as a drink used by astronauts.
Thanks to a number of successful television ads, kids were soon begging their parents for a jar of the coveted orange powder, to the point that supermarkets were having problems keeping the beverage mix stocked.
Seeing this overwhelming success, the folks at Pillsbury quickly introduced a snack called Space Food Sticks. Despite the cool concept, however, their popularity was short-lived by comparison.
In the 70s, General Foods introduced Grape Tang, which tasted a little better than the original, but never matched the numbers of the orange variety. And today, Tang is marketed in a whole rainbow of flavors, including watermelon and pineapple, and is sold in packets much like its powdered-beverage competitor, Kool-Aid.
And despite John Glenn’s distaste for the product, he still requested that Tang accompany him on his return voyage to space aboard the space shuttle in 1998. Hey, we can’t blame the Senator for getting a little nostalgic for his Tang. Truth is, few of us ever thought the stuff really tasted all that good, but that wasn’t why we were drinking it in the first place.
Were you a fan of this powered drink back in the day? Did you prefer Orange or Grape? I hope you’ll take a moment to share any and all Tang memories with us in our comments section below, as we pay tribute to this beloved beverage from yesteryear.