Published May 07, 2011
When you are shot into outer space strapped to a rocket for a living, you have a slightly different threshold for excitement than most people. So what kind of car do you drive when you come back down to Earth?
For Alan Shepard, who was the first American to break free of the planet’s atmosphere on May 5th, 1961 the choice was almost obvious: a Chevrolet Corvette. The Navy test pilot owned a 1957 ‘Vette when he was chosen for the space program in 1959, one of 10 he would own over the course of his lifetime. After returning from his successful mission, General Motors President Ed Cole presented the national hero with a brand new 1962 Corvette, helping to kick off a relationship between astronauts and Corvettes that has lasted ever since.
All told, six of the 7 Mercury astronauts would drive Corvettes during their time in the program, thanks in part to a special lease deal offered to them by Chevrolet dealer and Indy 500 winner, Jim Rathman. According to General Motors, only John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth, chose a Chevy station wagon over the sports car.
Over the years others would follow, including the entire crew of Apollo 12, who had their matching 1969 Corvette Stingrays painted gold. The Apollo 15 crew would do them one better on the patriotism front, with red, white and blue cars between them. In fact, they liked them so much that they brought a GM product to the moon with them, in the form of the Lunar Roving Vehicle.
To celebrate this ongoing connection, the Cape Kennedy Corvette Club is bringing together 30 surviving astronauts and a collection of Corvettes from the past five decades on Saturday, May 7th to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Shepard’s flight with a parade near the Kennedy Space Center in Cocoa Beach, Florida.