Recipes from History: Launch Beans

July 17, 2014,, by Matt Soniak

In April 1981, the NASA crew at the Kennedy Space Center was hard at work preparing for STS-1, the first orbital flight of the space shuttle program. People have to eat, even when they’re making history, so members of the launch crew brought in food from home to share during long hours of pre-flight tests and other preparations.

On the day of the launch, test director Norm Carlson brought in his contribution to the potluck: cornbread and a small crock pot of beans. After a successful lift off, the team celebrated and dug in to the food. Carlson’s beans were a hit and disappeared quickly. For the next shuttle launch later that year, Carlson doubled his recipe and brought in two pots of beans. The larger batch was again eaten in no time. He kept bringing in more and more beans and more and more crock pots for each flight, until it got to be too much keeping up with his hungry team.

“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 [launch control center], just above the firing rooms,” says the KSC website.  “The call ‘Beans are Go!’ came to signal that the shuttle had successfully launched, and it was time to relax and unwind.”

When Carlson retired, his bean-cooking duties were turned over to the center’s food service contractor, which prepared twelve 18-quart cookers for every launch until the shuttle program ended in 2011.

Want to eat like a rocket scientist? Here’s Carlson’s recipe, from Spaceport News, NASA’s newsletter for KSC employees.

“Successful Launch Beans”
Courtesy of Norm Carlson, former NASA Test Director Chief

Put 6 lbs. of dried great northern beans in an 18-quart electric cooker.

Cut 10 lbs. of smoked ham into cubes.

Add ham and ham bones to beans.

Add 1⁄2 shaker of lemon pepper.

Add 3 lbs. chopped onions.

Add 2 stalks chopped celery.

Add 1 tsp. liquid smoke.

Cover with water and cook for at least 8 hours.


“Famous Launch Day Cornbread”

Martha White Self-Rising Corn Muffin Mix

Follow directions on box.

For more information, and a smaller recipe, visit