Someone Bought The Space Shuttle Convoy Command Van From a Government Surplus Auction

It’s not every day that a broken-down Airstream has this pedigree.

byVictoria Scott|
For Sale photo

Government auctions are always an interesting spot to find cool old vehicles, but usually, they don't come with the (unannounced!) providence that they once led the Space Shuttle down the runway at Edwards Air Force Base. MacCallister Higgins on Twitter discovered a strange Airstream for sale that looked to be ex-NASA, but had no details about its former role. He discovered its past life and found it was important, too.

The original thread methodically lays out the case that the 1989 Airstream Executive Coach that was listed on an official government auction site is the Convoy Command Vehicle used for Space Shuttle landings at Edwards Air Force Base. The auction states the Airstream's current parking spot as NASA's Armstrong Flight Center (which shares a location with Edwards), and the only other notes are that the van 1) "requires a truck with a winch" to be removed from the property, and more interestingly, 2) the Airstream is subject to ITAR compliance procedures (so buyers must be a U.S. citizen and agree not to export the RV to another country.) That second point confirms the mobile home is somehow related to U.S. space and military operations.

As Higgins shows in a well-researched thread, the van, which has been stripped of its NASA logo but bears the remaining stripes of its livery, shows up in official imagery from the '00s leading off convoys that towed the shuttle after landing at Edwards. Now, it wears a relatively disheveled interior and apparently doesn't run, but at its peak, it was the lead vehicle every time the Shuttle landed at Edwards, which was a backup landing strip for most of the Shuttle program's existence, but still ended up being used for 54 missions. Photos from in-era stories that Higgins uncovered show the interior of the RV once adorned with mission patches along its now-bare walls.

The winner got either a bargain or completely ripped off, depending on how fondly you remember the Shuttle program, with the auction ending at $21,061 and 19 bidders. Considering it has to be towed away, it's a bit on the pricey side, but I'm not one to judge dropping everything for a challenging journey to pick up some space-exploration esoterica, judging by the 9-foot-tall Soviet Buran shuttle model I have in my living room. Personally, I say well-bought, and I hope to see it making road trips to the Smithsonian someday soon.