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According to Wikipedia, General Motors made a deal to give cars to the Mercury astronauts at drastically discounted prices. Pictures of America's heroes driving their cars was good marketing for GM. Many astronauts opted for the Chevy Corvette sports car. Kennedy Space Center security apparently turned a blind eye to astronauts racing around the facility, and Alan Bean recounted seeing a row of Corvettes lined up in the astronaut parking lot in Houston. Alan Shepard's white Corvette (below) is on display in the Saturn V building at the KSC Visitor's Center.

  • Did the offer extend beyond the Mercury astronauts?
  • Did GM ever stop letting more astronauts join the program? When?
  • Did GM eventually stop the deal altogether? When?

Alan Shepard's Corvette

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    $\begingroup$ The film Apollo 13 depicts both Jim Lovell (Gemini, Apollo) and Ken Mattingly (Apollo, and at that time a rookie who had not flown in space) driving Corvettes, and is pretty accurate in such depictions. My gut says GM probably stopped doing it after Apollo, but I couldn’t say when for sure. $\endgroup$ Feb 26, 2021 at 6:28
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    $\begingroup$ The "Corvette bias" continued up to COVID-19 (which has NASA security buckled up tightly). An acquaintance who normally drives a minivan had his badge checked carefully by JSC security when he entered the site with that vehicle. This is standard procedure. But when he drove his vintage Vette onsite (he typically takes it out of the garage once a week, maybe every other week), security would take one look at his car, at his buzzcut, and at the badge-shaped thing he was holding, and then wave him through. $\endgroup$ Feb 26, 2021 at 12:21
  • $\begingroup$ My recollection from the book version of The Right Stuff was that John Glenn drove an NSU Prinz 1 (1959), much to the distain of his colleagues. lanemotormuseum.org/collection/cars/item/nsu-prinz-1959 $\endgroup$ Jul 9, 2022 at 10:47

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Al Worden’s 1971 Corvette and Alan Bean’s 1969 Corvette Al Worden’s 1971 Corvette and Alan Bean’s 1969 Corvette

When it comes to information on Corvette, it's best to take a gander at the Corvette Museum has to say. Starting with Alan Shepard and the Freedom 7 capsule launch on May 5, 1961 to the final flight of Apollo 17 on December 11, 1972, GM wanted it's sports car to be associated with NASA. So they made a deal to lease any vehicle to NASA astronauts for the nominal fee of $1.00. Six of the seven Mercury astronauts had a Corvette. John Glenn infamously drove a NSU Prinz.

The deal ended because it was of questionable ethics to make a sweetheart deal like that available to government employees.

When the astronauts were done with the vehicles, GM then took them back and sold them as used with no identification of the pedigree of the vehicle.

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    $\begingroup$ If civil servants took such a deal now, or even 40 years ago, they would be quickly become ex civil servants, and the company that offered such a deal would also be in deep trouble. $\endgroup$ Feb 27, 2021 at 15:31
  • $\begingroup$ @DavidHammen Is the implication that this would be tolerated 50 years ago (i.e. ending in the early 1970s), that astronauts are not civil servants or not typical civil servants, or something different? I know there were severalApollo-era astronaut ethics controversies that included different expectations about what was OK. $\endgroup$
    – ikrase
    Jul 15, 2022 at 5:53
  • $\begingroup$ @ikrase Astronauts are civil servants. The US government apparently turned a blind eye to the special lease deal offered to astronauts for Chevrolet cars during the 1960s and early 1970s. After all, they were the country's astronaut heroes. They were expected to go fast (they were required to go fast; T38 training was mandatory back then, even for scientist-astronauts), maybe die, but at all costs they had to beat those expletive-deleted commies. $\endgroup$ Jul 15, 2022 at 10:30

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