Since 1961, Corvettes and astronauts have had a strong connection thanks to Alan B. Shepard, who is the first American to travel into outer space. When he touched back down on Earth, he got behind the wheel of a customized Chevy Corvette (it featured some “space-age” interior), which helped intertwine astronauts with the sports car.
On May 7th, about 30 of America’s surviving astronauts gathered at Cocoa Beach, Fla., where they participated in a parade commemorating the 50th anniversary of Shepard’s historic sub-orbital flight. Fittingly, they drove in Corvettes representing all six design generations built since the famed sports car’s 1953 debut.
The connection grew further when Florida Chevrolet dealer Jim Rathmann, a former racer who won the 1960 Indianapolis 500, negotiated a special lease arrangement with Chevrolet to put astronauts into Corvettes. The enduring association with America’s astronauts has contributed greatly to the legend of the Corvette.
"In the 1960s, astronauts were the American heroes that every child idolized and every adult respected,” said Corvette historian and former Corvette Quarterly editor Jerry Burton. “That so many of them drove Corvettes really helped to establish Corvette as America's sports car.”
Check out this short video, which features two astronauts who attended the parade!