The $1 Corvette: Why every astronaut had a Chevrolet
The story of how almost every astronaut from the 20th century drove a Corvette.
The link between astronauts and Corvettes started long before Neil Armstrong blasted off to become the first man on the moon. Alan Shepard, one of America's first astronauts and the first American in s, was a keen Corvette fan who would end up owning 10 Corvettes over his lifetime.
Chevrolet noticed the opportunity arising in which they could be the car brand associated with the space program. In 1962, the company sealed the deal to get astronauts behind the wheel of their cars. Up until this point it had been practically unheard of for Chevy to offer free cars - even to people such as Alan Shepard - but this changed when Shepard was given a specially-prepared 1962 Corvette as a gift from the company.
A 1962 issue of Corvette News featuring Alan Shepard
Chevy came upon resistance when it was discovered that a U.S Military policy forbade astronauts from profiting from their fame by taking gifts or sponsorships. Chevy managed to evade this hurdle by introducing a 'Dollar Car' promotion in which NASA astronauts and their families would be offered the lease of one of Chevy's cars for just $1 a year and could redeem up to two cars. Taking advantage of this promotion, most astronauts selected one sensible family car and a flashy new Chevy Corvette.
Alan Shepard with GM Styling President William Mitchell and Chevrolet General Manager Edward Cole
Over time, Chevrolet became 'the astronaut's car' as the public began to associate their new models with the national heroes blasting into space. Chevrolet offered the Apollo 12 crew a trio of 1969 Corvette Roadsters which had been specially prepared and painted with red, white and blue logos as a nod to their achievements.
Apollo 12 astronauts Charles Conrad Jr., Richard Francis Gordon Jr. and Alan LaVern Bean with their identical 390hp V8 Corvette Stingrays.
The deal came to an end in 1971 with the end of the Apollo program but the link between astronauts and corvettes remained strong as retired astronauts Scott Kelly and Mae Jamison were present for the release of the 2020 Corvette. Interest in the original 'Dollar Corvettes' has remained strong with the Corvette of Gus Grissom, who died in a launchpad fire in 1967, selling at auction for $275,000.