5 Times Automakers Went Into Space

FEB 9 2018 BY C SMITH 20

Tesla On Falcon Heavy
Of course we need to start this list with Elon Musk’s Starman cruising through space in a Tesla Roadster. Being the CEO of a car company and a rocket company has its perks, and whether you’re a fan of Musk or not, he does know how to get the attention of the world.

Car companies have been part of the space race for decades.

Make no mistake – the recent launch of the SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket with a Tesla Roadster on-board captivated the car community, if not the world. It’s certainly not the first time a rocket was sent into space, but it is the first time a private company endeavored to reach beyond Earth’s orbit, never mind sending an actual car with a spacesuit-wearing mannequin to orbit the sun. Anyone who caught the SpaceX livestream  will attest to just how awe-inspiring it was to see the car floating in orbit, with the Earth growing ever smaller in the background.

This event got us thinking about automakers and space travel. Tesla wasn’t the first car company to dip a toe into the final frontier – in fact, automakers have been part of the space race since the days of America’s Mercury program in the early 1960s. We did some digging to see what other automotive endeavors factor into space travel and here are 4 other times we recall.

GM Robonaut 2
General Motors actually has a long history with NASA and America’s efforts in space exploration. Back in 2010 the automaker unveiled Robonaut 2, and as the name suggests, it’s a robotic humanoid astronaut that can perform dexterous tasks in dangerous environments. It went to the International Space Station aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery in early 2011.

Audi Lunar Quattro
In 2016 Audi partnered with a group called Part-Time Scientists to build and launch a small moon rover. The goal is to launch it in 2019 and touch down at the Apollo 17 landing site, which was the final manned lunar mission in 1972. If Audi is successful – and gets there before other companies – it can claim the $30 million Google Lunar XPrize.

GM/Apollo Lunar Rover
Tesla may claim to have the first production-based vehicle in space, but the Lunar Rover will always hold the title as the first car to actually be used in space. It was built with considerable input from General Motors and was vital to exploring larger regions of the Moon in later Apollo missions.

Toyota ‘Voice’ For Kirobo Robot Astronaut
Kirobo was jointly developed by several companies in Japan and went to the International Space Station in 2013. Its purpose is to help develop and fine-tune the way robots and humans interact in zero-gravity, with Toyota creating Kirobo’s voice recognition functionality.

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20 Comments on "5 Times Automakers Went Into Space"

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One minor thing. Audi couldn’t claim the prize because its been abandoned (although many of the competitors say they will go ahead and do it anyway).


You’re also forgetting the Ford Aerospace division, which built satellites and early versions of the Sidewinder air-to-air missile.

It’s not the same thing. None of this is. GM netting a contract to build a lunar rover? The Roadster is 2800 pounds and the Lunar Rover is under 650 pounds. Oh, and Boeing got the $39 million to build the rover, not GM. They had very little to do with it. “touched the muffin” as they say in sales.

GM had a LOT to do with the Apollo missions.

“General Motors developed and delivered the inertial guidance and navigation systems for the entire Apollo moon program … and was also responsible for all mobility systems and components of the Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV) that the Apollo 15 astronauts first drove on the moon in 1971.”


The Wikipedia article could use some clarification. As anyone who worked for Honeywell in the 1970’s would know we did quite a bit of work for NASA. Honeywell according to our own newspaper did most of the Apollo landing controls on the moon lander. I think we also invented the autofocus camera so the astronauts could take pictures with heavy gloves on their hands. Honeywell with IBM did all of the flight controls for the space shuttles. Giving all credit to GM for the Apollo Missions guidance control appears ignorant to me. Hughes Aerospace, which GM purchased eventually, might have done some of the flight control once the spacecraft left earth’s atmosphere.

“Touched the muffin”?

I was in sales for fifteen years and never heard that one.

Another Euro point of view

Anyway, after all it now seems that making well assembled cars and selling them at a profit in large quantities is way harder than making rockets. Probably NASA should have hired GM or Toyota a long time ago.

How would you know? I doubt you’ve made either.

I’m thinking standard production vehicles might be a first.

Is that astronaut that Tesla sent up, going to be OK?

Just in case you’re seriously asking, the Tesla Roadster and “starman” suit is an unmanned payload test. There’s nobody actually in the suit.

SO we’ve been told that there is only a manekin in the suit, however the gag going around is that the suit has someone that needed to disappear.

Tesla’s previous battery module assembly automation vendor comes to mind:)

I heard the Roadster’s personalized license plate reads, “FKUJEFF”.


The article headline is incorrect. That Toyota thing was a robot, not a car, so was the GM robot.
Both of which I read about the first time when I read the article, although I follow space news since the 80s.
And the Audi Lunar Quattro is just another announcement to be there just next year or so. It has never left earth atmosphere; if it ever will fly up, ironically, it will be doing so in a Space X rocket. Personally, I think the accomplishment of putting a small device safely on the surface of the moon is much bigger than to drive around 500 m with said device after landing.
BTW: The GM moon rover was not shot up by GM, but by NASA in form of parts, and finally assembled by US military personnel on the moon’s surface.

This is bloody awesome, and here’s a bunch of dumb arses trying to bring it down. Audi is a future event, if it even happens at all.
Not only launching the Falcon Heavy successfully, the biggest payload capable rocket, but also this publicity stunt on epic scale, an actual production car with the driver included. Fantastic!
Sorry, nothing else since the shuttle missions comes close. It’s a pity one of the rockets failed to land correctly, but the fact two of them did is also unbelievable!
People are crapping on about the finances of Tesla and volume delivery of Model 3, while here we have genuine innovation and solutions getting proven every other day.
Comparing Tesla finances to ANY other auto manufacturer is just nonsense. One has been in business for 10yrs, has disrupted the whole industry, pumped their profits back into making it better. And the others have been in business for >50yrs, done very little to disrupt anything and made huge profits that they haven’t pumped back into anything.
I for one can’t wait to see them land on Mars and usher in the next phase of human evolution.

Thanks Jason,

You’ve expressed pretty well my thoughts too.

* “One has been in business for 10yrs, has disrupted the whole industry, pumped their profits back into making it better.” *

I think this is the part people have issue with. Tesla has not “pumped their profits back into making it better”. If they had, Model 3s would be flying out the door nearly flawless. Instead, they have spent their profits on coming up with new schemes to pump their stock up and keep investor money rolling in instead of becoming a serious car company.

It’s a Ponzi scheme, not a car company. That’s OK, people like this Ponzi scheme just like they loved Bernie Madoff’s scheme for years too. He really was a genius… until he wasn’t.

It is amazing how fanboi’s of other car companies glam onto trying to share a bit of Tesla’s glory by claiming they did stuff too — after they bashed Tesla for months for planning to send a Roadster into space.

It’s amazing you don’t see your own bias with a comment like that, when the whole article is all about various automakers and their involvement in space.