Cape Corvette: to the Space Shuttle in a ZR1

Published: 09 January 2009

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It was a story I’d wanted to do for years – since I first read The Right Stuff in fact. Drive a proper, big, lairy Corvette to Cape Canaveral, witness a rocket launch and spend some time on Cocoa Beach – the place where the NASA’s legendary Mercury 7 astronauts, according to Tom Wolfe, ‘would get in their cars and go… for the endless, seamless party.’

The Mercury 7 loved cars. And the car they loved more than any other was the Corvette. The pilots would tune them, race them and crash them along the Cape’s endless roads. 

With a keen eye on their history, Corvette loaned us a ZR1 for our little pilgrimage. NASA was equally welcoming and agreed to let photographer Tom Salt and I in the exclusive press area, just 3.5 miles from the launchpad, for the last ever Shuttle night launch. You can read the full 11-page feature in the new February 2009 issue of CAR Magazine on sale now. Click here for a sneak preview.

I was deeply moved by the launch. Sounds weird, but watching, feeling, hearing the atmosphere torn to shreds as the Shuttle astronauts were fired into orbit gave me an enormous sense of optimism. I mean, if we can puncture gravity – surely we can do anything? Have a look at the short video clip we hastily shot below – turn your speakers up, stand back and admire NASA's achievement….

Soon after my deadline, Bruce Melnick – a genuine Shuttle astronaut and petrolhead – contacted me. Bruce has a circuit-prepped Corvette Z06 and a new ZR1 on order.

A track day fan, Bruce says that ‘braking in a Z06 is a lot like Main Engine Cut-Off (MECO) in the Shuttle. Same direction, but in the Shuttle it’s from 3g acceleration to zero – in the Z06 it’s zero to negative g longitudinal.’

I’m hoping to meet Bruce the next time I’m in Florida. It’d be great to hang out with someone who has not only experienced the ZR1’s 638bhp, but also the Shuttle’s 37,000,000bhp…

I’ve attached some of my snaps from our road trip to this blog, but for the ZR1 to Cape Canaveral drive story and Tom Salt’s incredible photography (these are my own happy snaps!), check out the latest February 2009 issue of CAR Magazine on sale now.  And if anyone wants to ask any questions, feel free to post a reply and I’ll respond. I could talk for ages about this trip, just ask my wife…

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