Fast Cars and Hot Rod Astronauts

by Nancy Atkinson on May 13, 2011

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Corvettes were synonymous with the first US astronauts. Why? The story goes that a Florida car dealer named Jim Rathmann had a great marketing idea and negotiated a special lease arrangement with Chevrolet to provide the Mercury 7 astronauts with sports cars worthy of the performance required by a test pilot. The cars were fast and handled like a dream. Plus, the Corvettes back in the early 1960′s had what many would consider “space age” interiors. Six of the Mercury astronauts would take Rathmann up on his Corvette offer, but stalwart family man John Glenn instead decided he wanted a new station wagon. While there are stories of the Mercury astronauts racing each other in their Corvettes, reportedly Glenn’s wagon proved more useful. It was just the thing for those occasions when the seven astronauts needed to travel together.

Apollo 12 astronauts (L-R) Charles 'Pete' Conrad Jr., Richard Francis Gordon Jr., and Alan LaVern Bean with their identical 1969 Corvette Stingray coupes. The coupes features a 390-hp, 427 V-8 and black-accented Riverside Gold color scheme designed by Bean. Photo by Ralph Morse / Time & Life Pictures / Getty Images.

These sports cars would continue to be used by Apollo astronauts, and the association between the car and the space program continues even today. For example, the 1995 movie “Apollo 13” featured two era-authentic Corvettes, one of them used in a scene featuring Tom Hanks as astronaut Jim Lovell. The 2009 movie “Star Trek XI” opens in the year 2245, with a 12-year old James T. Kirk driving a 280-year old 1965 Corvette Sting Ray.

On May 7, 2011, approximately 30 of America’s surviving early astronauts gathered in Cocoa Beach, Florida to participate in a parade commemorating the 50th anniversary of Alan Shepard’s historic first flight for a US astronaut. Enjoy the video above where some of the astronauts are interviewed, briefly, and includes some vintage photographs of hot rod astronauts with their fast cars.

Source: GM

About 

Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also is the host of the NASA Lunar Science Institute podcast and works with Astronomy Cast. Nancy is also a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

Dan Danys May 13, 2011 at 6:59 PM

Speed man!!

Anonymous May 13, 2011 at 10:22 PM

Dunno the car, but they look like ugly ripoffs of the Citroën DS.

Anonymous May 13, 2011 at 10:22 PM

Dunno the car, but they look like ugly ripoffs of the Citroën DS.

Anonymous May 13, 2011 at 11:01 PM

Huh? The Corvette is the quintissential American Sportscar, in production since 1954 IIRC. I’m not European and am familiar with the Citroen. Perhaps you should expand your horizons……

Anonymous May 14, 2011 at 1:53 PM

To each their own. That bottom promo photo really look unflattering to me.

I’d better abstain from drawing conclusions from something I find ugly being called quintessential.

Erica Morro May 14, 2011 at 8:27 PM

Sili

Production of the Corvette predates the Citroen DS. Perhaps I could describe your “ripoffs” comment as ugly.

I might add it is plain to see that you are no fan of space exploration or the ’60′s. You should stick to French auto web-sites that are so important to you.

Anonymous May 15, 2011 at 11:30 AM

1) I said “look like” not that they were ripoffs. It’s not like I knew the relative dates – thank you for finding out for me.

2) I like how you can conclude that my aesthetic opinion of a car somehow means I don’t care for space exploration. I have the utmost respect for the Mercury and Apollo programmes and employees. I won’t even say that the astronauts had poor taste in cars, since they got them for free (gift horse an’ all tha’).

Svetoslav Alexandrov May 14, 2011 at 12:11 PM

Decades ago people had useful and fast ground cars… Now we live in the 21st century and no flying cars…

Svetoslav Alexandrov May 14, 2011 at 12:11 PM

Decades ago people had useful and fast ground cars… Now we live in the 21st century and no flying cars…

Anonymous May 14, 2011 at 5:47 PM

Jim Rathmann wasn’t merely a car dealer. Rathmann was a racing car driver himself. He won the 1960 Indianapolis 500 and other notable races. Amongst racers, Rathmann embodied “the right stuff.” I grew up in Satellite Beach, Florida, my family having moved there in November, 1960; and an astronaut driving a Corvette was absolutely the symbol of the times.

Torbjörn Larsson May 15, 2011 at 2:27 PM

FWIW on the OT subject I agree, I choose to abstain when given the opportunity.* I went for another sports car instead.

* It wasn’t the lines so much, which while ugly are sporty. It was the round tail lights. That is so _traditional_, the anti-thesis of sporty.

Anonymous May 15, 2011 at 7:55 PM

Give it up Siliconopolitan. You stepped in a cow pie. If you don’t know the difference from a beef pie, trust me, it’s not good.

Anonymous May 15, 2011 at 8:02 PM

Give it up Siliconopolitan. You stepped in a cow pie. If you don’t know the difference from a beef pie, trust me, it’s not good.

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