Astronauts Start the Ride to Space in the Airstream Astrovan II

Starting with the Boeing Starliner flight, NASA astronauts have a new ride to the launch pad.

Dan Carney, Senior Editor

May 2, 2024

2 Min Read
Airstream's NASA Astrovan II.
Airstream's NASA Astrovan II.Airstream

At a Glance

  • Built from Airstream's Mercedes-Benz Sprinter-based Atlas Class B motorhome
  • It succeeds the Airstream Excella Class A-based Astrovan that was used during the space shuttle era
  • Airstream started its collaboration with NASA by providing the Mobile Quarantine Facility for the Apollo astronauts

NASA’s space program is welcoming another new vehicle to its fleet with the much-anticipated launch of the Boeing Starliner spacecraft: the Airstream Astrovan II crew transport vehicle that shuttles astronauts to the launch pad.

The Astrovan II wasn’t needed for the Starliner’s first launch, as that mission was uncrewed. But now that astronauts Butch Wilmore and Sunita Williams are flying the capsule to the International Space Station, they need a ride for the nine-mile trip out to Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.

After getting a practice ride in Astrovan II during a flight rehearsal, the crew was enthusiastic about their new ride during an online media Q&A. “It is epic!,” exclaimed Crew Flight Test Commander Butch Wilmore. “I mean, you are in the Astrovan!”

He went on to describe the Airstream’s desirable features. “It’s got cushioned seats and of course, it’s got a big video screen in the back, and as you would expect, two Navy test pilots, you know what movie we put on. And actually, I had them edit out, and put only in the flying scenes and the dramatic scenes. Of course, it was Top Gun: Maverick. And we will watch the same one on the way out to the pad Monday night [for the flight].


Astronaut Sunita Williams clarified the movie scenes watched during their ride to emphasize her background as a Navy test pilot, saying, “We did watch the beach scene as well and it was a beautiful helicopter that was flying past those guys as they were playing football also. I had to add that in there.”

Related:NASA Launches New NASA+ Streaming Service

Starting with space shuttle mission STS-9 in November 1983 to the final mission in 2011, the original Astrovan was a modified 1983 Airstream Excella Class A motorhome of the Airstream’s iconic silver bullet design. Astrovan II is a Class B motorhome, which means that it is a converted van. In this case, the basic van is an Airstream Atlas, which is built on a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van platform.

Astrovan II was custom-built at Airstream’s Jackson Center, Ohio manufacturing facility in consultation with Boeing’s Starliner team. In addition to Astrovans I and II, Airstream also provided NASA with four Mobile Quarantine Facilities built from the company’s signature stainless steel travel trailers. They built one each for Apollo 11, Apollo 12, Apollo 13, and Apollo 14, though Apollo 13’s went unused because that mission did not reach the moon. After Apollo 14, fear of moon germs was deemed unwarranted, and the astronauts were no longer quarantined.

Related:NASA Is on the Road Again with $4.6 Billion Lunar Rover Contract Awards


About the Author(s)

Dan Carney

Senior Editor, Design News

Dan’s coverage of the auto industry over three decades has taken him to the racetracks, automotive engineering centers, vehicle simulators, wind tunnels, and crash-test labs of the world.

Sign up for the Design News Daily newsletter.

You May Also Like