If you’re not following Canadian astronaut and burgeoning social media celebrity Chris Hadfield on Twitter, you’re really missing out — his photos of various parts of the Earth from orbit are amazing, and over the weekend he also became the first astronaut to beam back a recording of himself performing a song in space. That song is, inevitably, David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” and Hadfield does a pretty creditable job of singing it, floating around in zero gravity as he does so. While Hadfield’s the first to produce a video of himself covering David Bowie in a space station, he’s not the first to combine music and space travel. Here’s a brief history of songs that have gone to space.
“Johnny B. Goode” — Chuck Berry
The most famous musical missive to the cosmos was the Voyager Gold Record, a gold-plated LP that was sent into deep space with the Voyager 1 probe. The contents of the record were chosen by a committee chaired by the immortal Carl Sagan, and include various sounds of nature, greetings in a whole bunch of languages, and most importantly for our purposes, a selection of music. There are sounds from all round the world, from Bulgarian folk music and a mariachi band to Senegalese percussion… and also a song by Chuck Berry. Sadly, it’s not “My Ding-a-Ling” — it’s “Johnny B Goode.”
“Across the Universe” — The Beatles
The Voyager Gold Record has probably traveled farthest of any example of Earthling music, but it might eventually be overtaken by the Beatles’ “Across the Universe,” which in 2008 became the first song beamed by NASA directly into space. It’s currently shooting towards Polaris at 186,000 miles a second, a fact that fills Yoko Ono with joy, bless her: “This is,” she said at the time, “the beginning of the new age in which we will communicate with billions of planets across the universe.”
“Lalala,” “Bald James Deans,” “Hot Times” and “No Love” — Julien Civange and Louis Haéri
No, we’d never heard of them either, but this duo composed four songs — “Lalala,” “Bald James Deans,” “Hot Times” and “No Love” — that were sent to Saturn’s moon Titan on the European space probe Huygens. There’s more information here — apparently the four songs were written to correspond to stages in the space mission, although what bald James Deans have to do with flying to Titan remains unclear. The tracks don’t seem to be available online, but that’s Civange above.
Mythodea — Vangelis
Honestly, it’d seem kinda wrong if Vangelis’s music hadn’t been sent into space, and sure enough, NASA commissioned the great man to soundtrack their 2001 mission to Mars. The result was Mythodea — Music for the NASA Mission: 2001 Mars Odyssey , a suitably cosmic-sounding symphony that was released on the day NASA’s spacecraft entered Martian orbit.
The European Space Agency’s mission to Mars in 2003 had a distinctly Young British Artist-y flavor — Damien Hirst designed a test card that was supposed to be used to calibrate the cameras of the Beagle 2 explorer after it landed on Mars, while the mission’s call-sign was composed by Damon Albarn et al. Sadly, contact was lost with the lander before it got to Mars, and Blur’s call-sign was lost to eternity.
Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6
The first broadcast to a spacecraft came in December 1965, when a Houston radio station was beamed to the crew of Gemini 7 as they orbited the Earth. The two astronauts chose to listen to classical music, and specifically Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony. (On a less highbrow note, they were also sent “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” apparently at the request of the 12-year-old daughter of astronaut Jim Lovell — she wanted Daddy home for Christmas, the little terror, and the song was a none-too-subtle hint at what might happen if he didn’t show.)
While Hadfield is the first to perform in space, he should have been preceded by some 25 years — astronaut Ron McNair was scheduled to record a saxophone solo by Jean-Michel Jarre on the Challenger in 1986. Sadly, the shuttle exploded on take-off, and Jarre included the piece on his 1986 album, which he named Rendez-Vous in McNair’s honor.
“Up in the Air” — 30 Seconds to Mars
Thankfully, the music of Jared Leto and friends wasn’t beamed into outer space — otherwise we’d probably have been the subject of a vengeful War of the Worlds-style alien invasion already. The band’s song “Up in the Air” was strapped to a Falcon 9 rocket and sent to the International Space Station as part of the promotional efforts for their upcoming album Love, Lust, Faith and Dreams. What the astronauts thought of this particular care package from Earth is unrecorded.
Meanwhile, it’s profoundly depressing that the first song ever broadcast from Mars, courtesy of NASA’s Curiosity Rover, was a specially commissioned track by pop Antichrist will.i.am. The song was called, inevitably, “Reach For the Stars,” and was beamed back from the Red Planet last year. Rumors that NASA meant to send will.i.am himself to Mars instead remain unconfirmed.
“I have only two passions: space exploration and hip hop.” SO. GOOD.