Saturday, February 5, 2011

Music To Eat Dehydrated Eggs and Bacon By

Ever since the Apollo program began, astronauts have been jarred awake by music selected by themselves, their relatives, or those kooky kids at Ground Control. But with the program winding down, NASA is inviting the public to vote on wakeup songs for its last two missions (STS-133 and STS-134; STS-135, which would launch in June, has not yet been funded.)

You can choose from a list of 40 songs previously used on shuttle flights, or, if you are so inclined, write and record an original song and send it to NASA for consideration. Voting for STS-133 is over, but it will start up again for STS-134 about three weeks prior to the scheduled April 19 launch.

A nice history of the wakeup song has been compiled by NASA historian Colin Fries. It includes such nuggets as:

- Many crews have been awakened on their final morning by Dean Martin's classic, Going Back to Houston.
- The crew of the 1975 Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, the first U.S.-Soviet manned space flight, woke up to the strains of Jerry Jeff Walker's "Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother."
- Chris Hadfield, former chief mission control CAPCOM (capsule communicator), is usually in charge of the wakeup music. "You don't want to play a dirge or something uninspiring," he said.
- In 1972, the Apollo 17 crew heard the Carpenters' "We've Only Just Begun." Now, I like the Carpenters a lot, but, c'mon.
- Hadfield had a company modify an electric guitar, making it lighter than usual and foldable to fit in the luggage of German astronaut and classical guitarist, Thomas Reiter (STS-121).

According to Lynn W. Heninger, former Acting Assistant Administrator for Congressional Relations, the common element of all these selections is that they promote a sense of camaraderie and esprit de corps among the astronauts and ground support personnel. That, in fact, is the sole reason for having wake-up music; and it is the reason that NASA management has neither attempted to dictate its content nor allowed outside interests to influence the process. (Again, "Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother"?????)

Songs in the Top 40 include stuff like Start Me Up by the Rolling Stones; On the Road Again by Willie Nelson; Should I Stay or Should I Go? by the Clash; Where I Come From by Alan Jackson; Free Fallin' by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers; and Higher Ground by Steve Winwood.

The Beatles (Good Day, Sunshine and Here Comes the Sun) and Petty (Free Fallin' and Learning to Fly) each have two songs on the list (unless you count John Lennon's Imagine on the Beatles list).

Moby's We Are All Made of Stars, the Tornadoes 74's Telstar, the Theme from Lost in Space, Jupiter from Holst's Planets Suite, Pink Floyd's Echoes and Joe Diffie's Third Rock from the Sun, all on my IPod's "space" playlist, are nowhere to be found. Which may say more about me than about NASA...

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