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Hagerty
Hagerty Employee

The unsung hero of American spaceflight is ... a van? | Hagerty Media

As the Saturn V SA-506 rocket stood on the launchpad, its engines waiting to generate 7.6 million pounds of thrust, astronaut Neil Armstrong took the first step of his long journey. Along with Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin Jr. and Michael Collins, all three wearing cumbersome spacesuits and carrying ventilators, he climbed into a specially-outfitted Clark-Cortez Motorhome, sat down, and waited.
https://www.hagerty.com/media/car-profiles/the-unsung-hero-of-american-spaceflight-is-a-van/
13 REPLIES 13
TonyT
Instructor

Interesting. The previous two crew transports were made in-house by Clark and Airstream, respectively. The new one looks suspiciously like a Mercedes with a giant sticker on it. Wonder why NASA didn't cut out the middle man (Airstream) and buy it from M-B directly. Heck, they probably would have donated it, in exchange for a three-pointed star patch placed on the spacesuits. Seems to me that if all the thing needs is a couple of benches and some monitors, an upfitted U-Haul van would be perfect. They even have a slide-out ramp so folks can easily enter the cargo area. What am I thinking! It's the government! Too easy and way too inexpensive!
BMD4800
Instructor

@Tony

The Excella was built upon a GM P30 chassis, and previous Conversions would also most likely have been built upon a commercial platform.

The new MB sprinter based Class C start as a cut a-way cab and chassis and Airstream builds the rest.

A high-roof sprinter could have been used in place of the Airstream, maybe a Suburban, or an old airport shuttle, but for folks that are riding a rocket out of the atmosphere, I guess we figured the difference in costs against the entirety of the Space Program was negligible.

Then again, Morton-Thiokol may have had a different view point.
compaqdeskpro
Intermediate Driver

Mercedes only makes the cab and chassis, airstream makes the box in the back. If I'm not mistaken the real technology in this RV is the filters and "negative pressure atmospheres" to prevent moon pandemics likely provided by Boeing.
win59
Detailer

No pictures of the original Clark Cortez??!
BrendanMc
Intermediate Driver

Well, the idea here was to keep the focus on the Airstream because it has the longer-running and better story. I will note that I have found an extremely well-restored Clark Cortez locally, and am working on maybe giving the Clark Cortez its own feature. They're really cool machines and have all kinds of weird associations. Vincent Price owned one, and one picked up the nickname "The Lobotomobile," and THAT is quite the story.
WOJ
Intermediate Driver

Airsteam also built an ambulance version on the same chassis as the shuttle transport. The Fire Department I worked for ordered 2 Airstream ambulances. I remember going to the factory to view the construction and they were being built along side the shuttle transport.
BrendanMc
Intermediate Driver

It's a bit morbid, but they also built a funeral coach version. Apparently the Airstream Heritage Center will have one on display.
WOJ
Intermediate Driver

I still have the original sales literature and it does show a funeral coach

MoparMan
Advanced Driver

"That's one short ride in a van....." LOL! 🙂
Gary_Bechtold
Instructor

Short Bus to Mars? LOL.

Cool piece of history. I've had the privilege of delivering a new car to a space shuttle astronaut and teaching them their new vehicle. We cracked jokes about the nav system might be more complicated than training for shuttle missions.

Zephyr
Advanced Driver

If only Airstream still built the Excella motorhome! It and the GMC were the best motorhomes ever built.
chrlsful
Instructor

I remember the ol GMC 23/6 Motorhome w/455 out of the Toranado, TH-426 or whatever the Turbo-Hydro was called (ford guy here) w/the project name "TVS". Didn't I C the 'space men" get out'n climb into the gantry fora ride to the top?
That frnt wheel /frnt motor wuz pretty cool. Could get the same bennies as the car, low entry, no DS takin up space, some traction improvements. A garage door on the back would suit this solo guy to haul off rd goodies'n use as my base camp !
Reinhold_Weege
Advanced Driver

Hideous.

This is about as futuristic looking as a roto-rooter van. Not only is the van itself demotivational, but the tacky graphics look like any one of the hundreds of Vegas-strip mobile billboards. I'd call for a beige sedan uber to take me to the launch pad before my ass graced the seat of this cheap-looking shuttle bus.