The Music of the Spheres: NASA’s wake-up call tradition

One of my favourite random facts I’ve come across in recent months has been NASA’s musical wake-up calls. Since the mid sixties, manned space missions have been woken up each morning by pieces of music chosen by Mission Control, the astronauts themselves, their friends and familes, and various other dignitaries.

The first wake-up call on record was a variation on ‘Hello Dolly’, played for the crew of Gemini 6 in 1965. Since then the music chosen has been eclectic to say the least; a full list is here, but I never expected ‘Ghost Riders in the Sky’ or the theme from Shaft to have been played in space, and given how Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’ ends up, I’m not even sure it’s appropriate.

Anyway, some of the songs are predictable: ‘Rocket Man’, Dean Martin’s ‘Going Back to Houston’, the themes from Star Wars and Star Trek. Others are just awesome, but that’s because I’m biased: ‘Dancing in the Dark’, ‘Brown Eyed Girl’, ‘The Impression I Get’ by the Mighty Mighty Bosstones.

Of course, the last shuttle mission is up there as we speak, and so the Atlantis is part of this tradition too. A list of their wake-up calls is here, but it looks like they’ve been pushing the boat out with messages from Elton John, Beyonce, Paul McCartney and (my favourite) REM’s Michael Stipe, who also recorded them a version of (what else?) ‘Man on the Moon’.

I don’t know why all this appeals to me so much. I think it’s partly down to the sheer mundane humanity of it: the soundtrack to the space programme is almost a list of soundbites – “The Eagle has landed”, “Houston, we have a problem” – so it’s nice to know that, even when they’re in orbit, astronauts are still listening to the same stuff as the rest of us. There’s something cool about that.

Anyway, to close, my favourite of all the wake-up calls isn’t actually a song. It was an extract from a classic television series and was broadcast to the shuttle Columbia in 1981. It just makes me happy that the crew were woken up by…

A Pigs in Space sketch by the Muppets.

I don’t know why this makes me so happy, but it does…

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One thought on “The Music of the Spheres: NASA’s wake-up call tradition

  1. Pingback: The Eagle and Atlantis « Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth

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