It comes as no surprise that NASA’s original astronauts liked to drive fast. Starting out as test pilots taking experimental planes to their limits, they wanted performance from their cars, too. They naturally gravitated to America's only sports car, Chey’s plastic fantastic Corvette. Alan Shepard, our first American in space, started the tradition by showing up for training in his ‘57 Corvette. Soon, fellow astronauts caught the fever and bought their own. Shepard stayed loyal to the brand, owning ten Corvettes in his lifetime.
After Shepard's historic first trip to outer space, General Motors president Ed Cole presented him with a mildly customized 1962 Corvette. After a few more Cape Canaveral spaceflights had occurred, Florida dealer Jim Rathman presented brand new Corvettes to all seven Mercury astronauts with a special $1 per year lease and a legend was born. Only one astronaut deferred; family man John Glenn opted for a Chevy wagon instead.
It became a tradition for astronauts to drive Corvettes. Apollo 12 astronauts Charles Conrad, Dick Gordon, and Alan Bean ordered custom 390-hp 427 Stingray coupes in a gold and black color scheme Bean designed and posed with their ‘Vettes for an iconic Life magazine photo. the crew of Apollo 15 drove matching red, white, and blue 'Vettes.
In the exuberance of the 1960s space-race, it seems altogether fitting that American icons NASA and Chevrolet’s Corvette found each other and fell in love.
Written by Jim Cherry