Vol. 8, Issue 5, May 18, 2010
NASA Sends Tang on Final Mission
The space shuttle Atlantis, carrying a crew of six, a Russian docking module and twelve gallons of Tang, vaulted into orbit Friday on a 12-day space station assembly mission, the final planned flight for the orange-flavored drink after nearly a half-century of service.
"This is a sad day for all of us, as we retire this essential component of the American space program," said NASA administrator Charles Bolden. "However, it's important for us to look forward. Our orbital beverage technology simply cannot remain viable if we continue to support systems developed before the moon landing."
NASA has been pressured to discontinue the Tang program for years. However the focus on building the International Space Station and struggling to develop mission plans for new missions to the moon and Mars have distracted NASA officials from investing in a suitable alternative. The impending retirement of the space shuttle, however, has left the agency with no choice.
"The use of Tang has been largely justified in recent years by the fact that it can substitute for emergency coolant on the shuttle," admitted Bolden. "Even though astronauts have been disinclined to consume it for years, the fact that this liquid has been so versatile has been a strong point in its favor." Tang is reportedly not compatible with any of the fuel or coolant systems on the next-generation launch vehicles in production.
Despite maintaining the best-funded space program in the world, America has long lagged behind other countries in orbital beverage research.
"Tang was a bit of a fluke, an early breakthrough that let NASA rest on its laurels," said Ken Imhofe, senior analyst for the Pennsylvania Technology Group. "In comparison, the Russians were asking their cosmonauts to drink engine coolant. However, by the time Mir was in orbit, they'd developed orange-flavored vodka, which led to a very lucrative spin-off that sustained the Russian space program for years."
The ISS, comprised of modules designed by different countries, puts American space-drink technology in stark relief.
"The Japanese module has little vending machines with three kinds of sake," said Captain Kenneth Ham, who commanded the most recent shuttle mission to resupply the station. "The European module has a cappuccino machine. The Russian module has an open bar, for crying out loud. It is sort of embarrassing."
Early suggestions involving partnering with PepsiCo to develop an alternative met with disaster, as carbonated drinks tend to explode in the fluctuating atmospheric pressures of a spacecraft.
"It's not widely known, but Atlantis was covered in Pepsi One the last time they tried that," confided Imhofe. "Shorted out half the controls. Sadly, instead of ditching the cola, NASA's solution was to start developing expensive waterproof control panels." He shook his head. "They need to get some good ideas flowing, or like it or not, the space program will run completely dry."