In 1957, General Foods began developing an orange-flavored breakfast drink in powdered form. In 1959, the year that Barbie and I were born, Tang began showing up on store shelves.
Its initial impression on the public was tepid at best. After all, what was wrong with good old frozen orange juice? You could also get Donald Duck orange juice in a big can (although it tasted like crap to this six-year-old). Why buy powdered orange drink?
Well, six years later, we found out why. Because the ASTRONAUTS drank Tang out in space!
Tang became a monster seller, thanks to kids like me who would endlessly nag their mothers into getting it at the local IGA. Mom probably liked the idea that I was drinking something which purported to be healthier that Kool-Aid.
However, the rush for us kids was in drinking something that was also the beverage of choice for those who would sail among the stars.
So we would mix up some Tang, grab a couple of Space Food Sticks, and head out to the yard to explore other planets. A football helmet might be worn as a substitute for the space version. A big box would sever as the space capsule. That was all a kid’s imagination needed to spend the afternoon in orbit.
Why did Tang go into space? A NASA engineer summed it up: “There was a particular component of the Gemini life support-system module which produced H2O. This was a byproduct of a reoccurring chemical reaction of one of the mechanical devices on the life-support module. The astronauts would use this water to drink during their space flight. The problem was, the Astronauts did not like the taste of the water because of some of the byproducts produced. So Tang was added to make the water taste better.”
The result was huge sales for General Foods for their previously unnoticed product. Tang was used on the Gemini and Apollo flights, although Buzz Aldrin said the Apollo 11 astronauts drank a similar but different grapefruit-orange mixture on the first moon flight.
Tang played up its use in space heavily in its advertisements, and that kept sales humming. Even as the space program wound down, I still found myself seeking out Tang because of its coolness.
And it’s still around, although it is now greatly diversified compared to its classic orange incarnation we grew up with.