Saturday, November 19, 2011

Was He Driving a Corvette?

Alan Shepard with a Chevrolet Corvette. Image source:

It's a legend of 1960s American spaceflight.

Six of the seven Mercury astronauts drove Chevrolet Corvettes around Cape Canaveral. The lone exception was John Glenn, who drove a station wagon.

It's a tradition that resonates through the years to today. The Cape Kennedy Corvette Club still meets, and Corvettes can be found in parking lots across Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

The astronauts were infamous for racing up and down the Cape Road. It's a two-lane road that parallels the Atlantic Ocean coastline from Launch Complex 34 at the south end, north past 37, 40, and 41, past the Beach House and finally behind KSC pads 39A and 39B.

A November 18 post by columnist Eric Berger on the Houston Chronicle web site shows that tradition is alive and well.

Berger quotes a passage in the new book, Gabby: A Story of Courage and Hope by STS-134 commander Mark Kelly about his wife, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

Kelly wrote that, on the eve of his launch, he took Gabby for a drive around the Shuttle pads. Kelly's NASA manager was quite displeased and called to chastise him.

“You were speeding on your way to the pad, too,” she said. The speed limit on the beach road behind the launch pad is thirty-five.

“Well I always speed when I’m out there before a launch,” I said. “How fast was I going? A hundred?”

“You were clocked at seventy-five,” she said.

“Seventy-five?” I answered. “I was trying to go a hundred! I ran out of room.”

She didn’t like my attitude and I didn’t like her phone call. One hundred and thirty-three space shuttle crews before this one had sped all over Kennedy Space Center and now it was an issue? My manager was making a point. “I want to make sure I made the right decision in assigning you to this flight,” she said.

I understood she had a job to do. But to me, it was classic NASA Astronaut Office management bull—t: Try to track down people’s little misdemeanors and then rag on them over them.

No indication if he was driving a Corvette. But the need for speed on the Cape Road continues.

The Cape Kennedy Corvette Club at the Air Force Space & Missile Museum. Image source:

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