Science

The astronaut’s grandson is involved in a project to restore the rare Apollo 15 spacecraft AstroVette.

Rare custom Corvette to be fully restored 51 years after its former owner launched the first car to the moon.

AstroVette Endeavor project (will open in a new tab) aims to return the classic white coupe to its fresh factory state in 1971, when it was one of three identical Corvettes leased to NASA’s Apollo 15 crew. The restoration is a collaborative effort between Will Penchak, grandson of Command Module Pilot Al Warden, and Luna Replicas, a space collectors company licensed to reproduce the late astronaut’s flight jacket.

“This is a unique preservation of what we consider to be a very important part of American history,” Penczak said in an interview with collectSPACE.com. “This is a symbol of a very important chapter in aerospace history, as well as in the history of my family.”

Apollo 15 was NASA’s fourth mission to land astronauts on the moon. The mission involved the first lunar rover and the first spacewalk (or EVA), the last of which was by Worden on his way home from the Moon.

Related: Al Worden, Apollo 15 astronaut (reference)

Apollo 15 Command Module Pilot Al Worden's AstroVette as seen in 2022, prior to its full restoration.

Apollo 15 Command Module Pilot Al Worden’s AstroVette as seen in 2022, prior to its full restoration. (Image courtesy of the AstroVette Endeavor project)

Replicas of Penchak and Luna (will open in a new tab) Owner Max Kaiserman bought Vette Worden five years after she was rediscovered by a collector. After many years of sitting in the field, the coupe needs some work to not only restore it to its former glory, but also to ensure its survival for many years to come.

“In its current state, it will continue to deteriorate,” Kaiserman said. “Not only do the consumables need to be replaced—rubbers, seals, and gaskets—but we’re also seeing some damage to the fiberglass and paint because they’ve been sitting outside for so long.”

“There is a certain level of invasive conservation or restoration that needs to happen. It cannot simply be preserved in the form in which it is, because it is still too far for this, ”he said.

AstroVette Ela

Worden’s AstroVette is one of six that have been customized. Other astronauts drove Corvettes under a special $1 lease arrangement with General Motors (GM), but only two crew compartments were custom painted.

Before being assigned to fly on Apollo 15, Warden, Dave Scott, and Jim Irwin first served as the backup crew for Apollo 12, the first crew to have matching Vettas.

“They did everything together, driving the same black and gold corvettes. (will open in a new tab) with crew seats painted on the sides. They showed the world that they were a tightly knit team,” Worden wrote in his 2011 autobiography Falling to Earth with Francis French. So we did something a little different.”

Apollo 15 astronauts Jim Irwin (left), Al Worden (center) and David Scott with their respective AstroVettes and rover from the pages of LIFE magazine in June 1971.

Apollo 15 astronauts Jim Irwin (left), Al Worden (center) and David Scott with their respective AstroVettes and rover from the pages of LIFE magazine in June 1971. (Image credit: LIFE via collectSPACE.com)

The Apollo 15 AstroVettes were red (Irwin), white (Worden), and blue (Scott) with matching stripes to complete the American flag motif. The same colors were used to represent the food and personal items of the three crew members aboard the Apollo 15 spacecraft.

The cars’ leases expired after a year, after which they were returned to GM and in turn resold to new owners. Although it was flown by astronauts and was one of only six custom corvettes built for astronauts, only three are known to still exist.

The same collector who found Worden’s AstroVette had previously bought Apollo 12 astronaut Alan Bean’s AstroVette in 1971 and acquired Scott’s blue Apollo 15 coupe in 2018.

“I contacted him in 2020,” Penczak said. “I was visiting my parents when they lived in Houston and ended up setting up a meeting. I went to his house in Central Texas and saw Al’s car along with his other cars.”

“That’s when the dream came alive when he said I could be the heir [the Vette]and here we are two years later,” he said.

Wetta in sight

Just as Worden’s flight on the Apollo 15 Command Module Endeavor was unveiled to the world, Penczak and Kaiserman intend to make the AstroVette Endeavor project open to the public.

“Our goal is to make it affordable,” Kaiserman told collectSPACE. “We are planning a YouTube channel and possibly a documentary. Will is working with some creative people who really want to make a video out of this, following our progress and telling the story.”

AstroVette Endeavor project co-lead Max Kaiserman stands in the driver's seat of Al Warden's Apollo 15 AstroVette, striking the same pose as the late astronaut.

AstroVette Endeavor project co-lead Max Kaiserman stands in the driver’s seat of Al Warden’s Apollo 15 AstroVette, striking the same pose as the late astronaut. (Image courtesy of the AstroVette Endeavor project)

Penczak and Kaiserman hope that during and after the restoration, when the Corvette is as good as new, the car can serve as an “inspiration tool,” especially by helping others pursue STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). Although Worden did not reunite with his car until his death in 2020. (will open in a new tab)he was active in organizations such as the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation and helped found his own Endeavor Scholarship Foundation to inspire students to pursue careers in engineering and research.

Penczak and Kaiserman are doing the initial restoration work themselves, but with a total potential cost of $150,000 to $200,000, they are planning public fundraising events and hoping to bring in corporate partners. There is hope that the Corvette will be ready for the 53rd anniversary of Apollo 15 in two years.

“We want as many people as possible to see the car and be inspired by it. I mean, if that means even charging you to get in the driver’s seat and take a picture, we’re going to do it,” Kaiserman said. .

Ultimately, Penczak and Kaiserman want to take the AstroVette on a 250,000-mile (400,000 kilometer) trip across the country.

“We want to drive it for as many miles as it takes to get to the moon,” Penczak said.

Subscribe to collectSPACE.com (will open in a new tab) on Facebook (will open in a new tab) and on Twitter at @collectSPACE (will open in a new tab). Copyright 2022 collectSPACE.com. All rights reserved.

Back to top button

Adblock Detected

Please consider supporting us by disabling your ad blocker.