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Chevrolet Celebrates Special Relationship With NASA Astronauts

by Jeff Prescott on

Ever since Chevrolet Corvette owner Alan Shepard became the first American to travel into outer space and was seen driving his American classic, there has been a clear connection between astronauts and Vettes. Soon after his history-making flight, he was presented a new white 1962 Corvette. Today, approximately 30 of America’s surviving astronauts are expected to gather at Cocoa Beach, Fla., to participate in a parade commemorating the 50th anniversary of Shepard’s historic sub-orbital flight. Fittingly, they will be driven in Corvettes representing all six design generations built since the famed sports car’s 1953 debut.

The connection between NASA and Chevrolet was cemented by race-car driver and dealer Jim Rathmann who operated a dealership near the Florida Space Center. Sensing that most of the spacemen were at heart Corvette types, Rathmann negotiated a special lease arrangement with Chevrolet to put them into the sports cars.

Six of the Mercury astronauts would take Rathmann up on his Corvette offer.
In the years that followed, many astronauts drove Corvettes, including Apollo 12 astronauts Dick Gordon, Charles Conrad and Alan Bean. These space pioneers ordered new 1969 Corvettes through Rathmann, and they asked that the identically equipped 390-hp 427 Stingray coupes be custom finished in a special black-accented Riverside Gold color scheme designed by Bean. A unique red, white and blue insignia was also added to the front fenders.

Another set of famous cars were commissioned by Apollo 15 lunar mission crewmembers Jim Irwin, Al Worden, and Dave Scott. These Corvettes were each a different color--red, white and blue—with dual racing stripes on each car that rounded out the American flag colors.

Corvette remains as American as apple pie and baseball, and General Motors has recently announced a $131 million investment in the Bowling Green, Kentucky, plant as it prepares to launch the next-generation C7 Corvette in 2014.

The photos in the gallery:
1) 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 feature a 390-hp, 427 V-8 and black-accented Riverside Gold color scheme. Photo by Ralph Morse / Time & Life Pictures / Getty Images.
2) Alan B. Shepard (center) with GM Styling President William L. Mitchell (left) and Chevrolet General Manager Edward N. Cole (right) with Shepard's 1962 Corvette.
3) The 1962 issue of Corvette News (Vol .5, issue #1) featured Alan B. Shepard with a white, 1962 Corvette coupe featuring a customized, "space-age" interior. In the background is the GM Design Center in Warren, Mich. Photo provided by Campbell-Ewald.
4) 2011 Corvette Z06 is ready for take off!

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