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The Reason Why So Many NASA Astronauts Drove Corvettes
Tom Wolfe's 1979 novel, "The Right Stuff" (turned into a hit movie a few years later), told the story of the Mercury Seven, America’s first class of NASA astronauts, and included tales of these fly boys racing around in Chevy Corvettes. So how exactly did America's first spacemen become associated with one of America's most iconic vehicles in the first place?
When Alan Shepard became the first American in space, General Motors president Ed Cole gave the astronaut a shiny 1962 Corvette for his accomplishment, which immediately became a point of contention with both GM and NASA. GM officials thought it might set a standard for giving cars away, while NASA didn't allow astronauts to endorse products or companies.
The connection might have ended right there if not for the ingenuity of Jim Rathmann, the owner of a Chevrolet-Cadillac dealership close to the Space Center in Florida. Rathmann, a former race car driver, approached GM and negotiated a leasing deal: For exactly $1 a year, each of the Mercury astronauts could lease the latest Corvette and trade it in for a new one each year.
Six Mercury astronauts, including Gordon Cooper, Buzz Aldrin, and Gus Grissom, took Rathmann up on the offer, while John Glenn went with a station wagon, claiming it benefited him and his family more. According to, this lease program was so popular that it continued on through both the Gemini and Apollo programs and ended in 1971.