Astronauts, earthlings still mix the orange.


It was the cool drink. The hip refreshment. The thirst quencher that promised that just like the astronauts, we too could do the moonwalk.Maybe we couldn't kick up dust on the Sea of Tranquility like Neil and Buzz. But we sure could use that oh-so-orange powder to concoct Tang, the instant breakfast beverage that those guys in space suits drank out of zero-gravity pouches.

But time rolls on, things change, fads come and go. And 25 years after the fabled ``Giant Leap for Mankind,' some may wonder: Where have all those orange grains gone?

Rest assured, while its popularity is not as widespread as it once was, it still has supporters today - both among astronauts and earthlings.

For the record, the drink's origin had nothing to do with the space program. It was developed by General Foods in 1957, 12 years before man would set foot on the lunar surface.

But the Vitamin C-filled drink is indelibly tied with outer space, largely because it has been used by astronauts since the Gemini flights of 1965 - and because of advertising.

``Tang Takes Off' bleats a 1965 General Foods newsletter that describes the elaborate efforts to craft commercials tied to the Gemini flights. Later commercials and ad promotions - from moon maps sent to thousands of schools to lunar module replicas on 18-ounce Tang jars - would reinforce the Tang-Space connection for years.

Once widely popular, Tang is no longer the major player it once was.

``Its sales are not now what they were then,' said Nancy Redmond, a spokeswoman for Kraft General Foods. She attributed that mainly to changes in consumer tastes and the availability of other drinks.

Still, Redmond said, ``Tang has its dedicated users.' It's also now available in mango flavor and sugar-free orange. Plastic containers have replaced the old glass jars.

And Tang is still used regularly in space.

Though astronauts can choose from a variety of beverages, ``we still get a fair amount of orders for the Tang,' said Vickie Kloeris, subsystem manager for shuttle food at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

And what does she think of it?

``It's fine,' Kloeris said. ``It's not like fresh-squeezed, but it's pretty good.'

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