The year was 1971. Nearly 9 months had passed since Apollo 13 had safely splashed in the South Pacific Ocean demonstrating the space program could overcome nearly any technical challenge with its ingenuity and creativity, NASA’s finest hour. The lunar rover was in its final stages of development and would be deployed on Apollo missions 15, 16, and 17 later that year and in 1972. But GM wasn’t the first to have parts of a automotive vehicle on the moon. Daimler-Benz was…and they didn’t even know it.
Dr Wernher von Braun, Director of the Marshall Space Flight Center had emigrated from Germany after WWII to the U.S. His knowledge of rocketry making the space program a reality. Later he would be a Director of Mercedes-Benz of North America where he served as a brand ambassador of sorts during his time with NASA. As part of this position within Mercedes-Benz the company provided him with several high end models over the years which were seen on a daily basis in the space center’s Huntsville, AL parking lot. The position with Mercedes also meant the occasional visit from other high level employees from Mercedes. In 1971 Mercedes manager Udo Danzer paid such a visit with friends from NASA. It was a late night and when returning to his car Udo realized the hood ornament from his Mercedes was stolen. Little did Udo know that his hood star would soon be among them.
Astronauts Alan Sheppard (America’s first person in space), Stuart Roosa, and Edgar Mitchell were preparing for their Apollo 14 flight to the moon. NASA very strictly watched everything that was brought on board a flight for weight and safety purposes, the astronauts were allows a small number of personal items on board and while it is not know whether this was officially brought on board Udo’s hood ornament joined the crew on January 31st 1971 as they blasted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Spending about 10 days in space, on February 9th after traveling over half a million miles the star with crew on board the USS Kity Hawk were floating in the South Pacific Ocean near to where Apollo 13 landed and were shortly recovered by the USS New Orleans.
Later the star was returned to Mercedes and now resides mounted on a piece of wood with small American and German flags and a plaque engraved with the details of its journey, beating the GM/Boeing lunar rover as the first car parts that made the trip to the moon.
Images: Daimler AG and public domain