NASA Jim and his Gray Ray corvette | Conduct
“I always thought if I could ever have a Corvette, well, I wouldn’t be the type to park it.”
For thirty-seven years, comprising 165 launch missions, Jim Meyers came to work every day in his 1969 Corvette. A NASA engineer, he participated in the enormous American effort to send a man to the moon. His life’s work has led to human footprints in the lunar soil.
On the 50th anniversary of the year a man made a giant leap for humanity, Meyer gave several presentations in his adopted hometown of Squamish, British Columbia. An avid skier, he fell in love with the West Coast and, before the pandemic, between Florida and Squamish. The Squamish knew him as “NASA Jim”.
He explained to the audience what it was like to work with astronauts like Neil Armstrong. He spoke about his involvement with Martian rovers like Sojurner, Spirit and Opportunity. He spoke of one of his proudest accomplishments, the Cassini probe, which orbited Saturn for thirteen years. And he told her about his special Corvette, the one he called Gray Ray.
“One of my fraternity brothers in college had a 1962 white Corvette, and I just thought it was the most wonderful thing. When I reported to NASA in Houston on September 12 1966, well, you’ll never guess, Alan Shepherd’s white 1962 “Vette” was parked outside Building Four.
Most of Apollo’s astronauts drove Corvettes, as did many of the Gemini and Mercury crew before them. Not all of them did – for example, the late Michael Collins of Apollo 11 drove to work on moon launch day in a Volkswagen Beetle. However, thanks to a near-free rental program implemented by a well-connected Florida dealership named Jim Rathmann, the Chevrolet Corvette has become a symbol of the space race.
Meyers showed up to work in a Corvair. He was newly married and fresh out of small town Indiana. Talking to him on the phone from Florida, he still has that humble, down-to-earth Midwestern charm. He explains his work at NASA in a pragmatic way, careful not to brag, but proud of what he’s been involved in.
If astronauts are the face of a manned space mission, then engineers are the muscles that get the job done. Meyers’ duties for the Apollo flights included everything from building mock-ups of the command and lunar modules for underwater training to building the seat of one of the Apollo 15 astronauts.
He spent two years in Houston before being transferred to the Kennedy Space Center, where he will work for the next thirty-five years. Now established in his career, and with some cash in his pocket, he decided to finally get his long awaited ‘Vette ordered. But there was a problem.
“At that point, Jim Rathmann was getting most of the dealership allocation, and we were just waiting. The dealership I ordered my car from, Bob Dance, gave me a number to call. He said I should explain that I was also working on the space program.
Meyers called the number and spoke to a man who told him he would take care of the problem. The next day a courier arrived with a note saying the car would arrive in thirty days. The note was signed “John DeLorean”. The Corvette arrived twenty-eight days later.
This car was a 1969 Corvette Stingray in Cortez Silver, with a 350ci 350bhp high compression V8 and a four-speed manual gearbox. The styling of the Corvette was changed in 1968, based on the Mako II concept car, and the silver paintwork really accentuated the shark lines.
“I’m telling you, I still clearly remember the day I took that car out of the dealership,” Meyers says.
He also remembers the day he was on the front lawn when astronauts Jim Irwin, Alfred Worden and David Scott walked past with their red, white and blue stripes. He knew them all well, having worked on Apollo 15.
There can’t be so many original 1969 Corvettes owners in Florida, and certainly not the ones that were driven every day to fire rockets into space. And, speaking of launches, Meyers slyly revealed another habit both ground crew and astronauts have.
“The engine had such high compression at the time that there was a build-up of carbon on the spark plugs. The solution was to run it at around 100 mph. I used to run it up to about 120mph in front of the VAB [NASA’s Vehicle Assembly Building] because we wouldn’t get tickets if we stopped there, just points. But I never stopped.
Meyers had the car freshened up a few years ago, with the salt in that Florida air, but it’s still largely original. Currently, the Gray Ray has traveled 173,000 miles and continues to accumulate more.
He retired from NASA in 2002, but on the fiftieth anniversary of Apollo 11, Meyers was able to take the gray ray around his old playground. “I took it pretty much everywhere I worked.” , he said.
Of course, he took his car to Pad 39A, from where all the Apollo missions were launched except Apollo 10. Today, SpaceX is launching its Falcon 9 rockets from there.
That day in 2019, Jim Meyers parked his Stingray near the carpet, stepped outside to take a picture of his beloved car, and thought about the good old days. He looked up and thought about the feeling of being part of a team that put a man on the moon. The sensation of watching a Saturn V rocket soar into the sky.
But then he got back in his Gray Ray and cranked up his V8. He had made a promise years ago, and he intended to keep it. It wasn’t a car for parking and just looking at it. It was built for theft.