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Beans: A Launch Tradition
July 7, 2014

[image-36]A much-celebrated Kennedy Space Center tradition began with STS-1.

[image-80][image-51]After that first shuttle liftoff in April 1981, launch controllers enjoyed beans and cornbread as an immediate payoff for a successful launch.

Former NASA Test Director Chief Norm Carlson started the tradition with one small crock pot of northern beans for his hungry staff. (View the recipe below.)

The tradition grew in popularity and Carlson turned the cooking over to Kennedy's food-service contractor.

Hundreds of launch team members, managers and dignitaries would swarm the Launch Control Center lobby after each space shuttle liftoff, dipping into twelve 18-quart cookers brimming with beans.

This popular tradition wafted the aroma of launch success through air ducts, into the elevators, out the automatic doors and into the parking lot.

As time passed, workers enjoined new customs and diversions from a demanding line of work.

"We have a very professional and focused team here, but we don't have to wait for launch day to blow a little steam," Dave King, then the space center's shuttle processing director, said in 2001.

"We like to celebrate the smaller victories along the way as well."

In the early days of the Space Shuttle Program, a NASA flow manager started bringing in doughnuts to celebrate the shuttle's move from the Orbiter Processing Facility to the Vehicle Assembly Building.

As we became more health conscious, some chose to bring in bagels.

At Kennedy, any excuse to have a barbecue is acceptable, but team accomplishments make them that much sweeter. A cookout brings everyone down to earth. When every face is covered with sauce, titles don't matter as much and everyone gets treated like family.

"These traditional gatherings [were] good for morale," explained Jim Halsell, a former shuttle launch integration manager.

"As an astronaut, the cookouts gave me an opportunity to say thanks face to face."

One of the few KSC traditions that excludes eating is the cutting of a rookie's necktie after launch. A customary practice among aviators following their first solo flight, launch directors, NASA test directors and engineers humbly endure this borrowed ceremony.

Shortly after liftoff, a Kennedy manager uses scissors to hack off the necktie just inches below the knot -- in front of the entire launch team. If food had been allowed in the firing room, a cookout would likely have topped off this tradition as well.

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.

By NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center

Chief Test Director Norm Carlson holds up a banner declaring Beans are Go.
'Beans are Go': NASA Chief Test Director Norm Carlson holds up a banner in the firing room after the successful launch of STS-26, informing the launch team that it's time to eat.
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Shuttle Launch Director Mike Leinbach cuts Shuttle Launch Director Pete Nickolenko's tie
Shuttle Launch Director Mike Leinbach cuts Pete Nickolenko's tie, marking Nickolenko's first time serving as Shuttle Launch Director on the STS-127 mission.
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NASA/Kim Shiflett
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About 400-500 bowls of beans are served at the Launch Control Center.
About 400-500 bowls of beans are served at the Launch Control Center. In this photo from 1989, employees gather to help themselves to the post-launch meal.
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Page Last Updated: July 9th, 2014
Page Editor: Anna Heiney