With about a million space nerds camped out around Cape Canaveral praying for no rain, the very last space shuttle of NASA’s historic Shuttle Program launched into the wild grey yonder this morning (July 8). Atlantis’ 33rd mission not only marks the end of an era of space exploration, it also brings to a close NASA’s lesser-known wake-up song program.
Since the Apollo Program in 1969, astronauts have regularly been roused from their floaty slumber by a carefully selected song from someone back on Earth (usually the partner or kids of an astronaut on board).
The wake-up song is a perk of the job for astronauts — a beamed-in slice of home, often alongside a hefty dose of fun. So, Houston, cue the countdown…
10. ‘Magnum, P.I.’ Theme
Ever dream of waking up to Tom Selleck’s moustache gently brushing your ear as he whispers a personalized message to you…in SPACE? Linda Godwin, Mission Specialist and big-time Selleck fan, got as close as anyone will get to that in 1991 aboard Atlantis when a special greeting from the TV P.I. himself came over the radio. “This is Tom Selleck and I hope you had a nice night’s sleep, but it’s time to get up and go to work.” The theme to ‘Magnum, P.I.’ followed, as Godwin likely drifted into a zero-gravity swoon.
9. ‘What a Wonderful World’ – Louis Armstrong
It’s safe to say you can’t leave this planet without looking back over your shoulder and admiring the view of our blue orb, which is probably why ‘What a Wonderful World’ is one of the top wake-up songs of the Shuttle Program. Louie Armstrong’s crooning has woken up astronauts 14 times in NASA history. According to Mission Specialist Scott Parazynski: “I can’t think of a more beautiful way to begin the day…It really describes the view from space.”
8. ‘Pigs in Space’ – The Muppets
Back in 1981 when Columbia was spaceborne for the second time, they didn’t have Google to help them find songs about space, so someone at ground control had not one but two Muppets’ ‘Pigs in Space’ routines in their back pocket for the perfect wake-up call. For two mornings in a row, the astronauts were woken by their porcine Muppet counterparts: Captain Link Hogthrob, first mate Piggy, Dr. Julius Strangepork and their crew of pigs aboard the Swinetrek.
7. ‘Ghost Riders in the Sky’ – Johnny Cash
Wake-up calls aren’t unique to the Shuttle Program and Johnny Cash got the honor on Skylab 4 during an 84-day science mission in ’73/’74. But perhaps the always-rebellious Man in Black wasn’t the best choice. After their workload complaints went unheeded, the Skylab crew staged an unprecedented 24-hour mutiny, taking a day off to chill out. Needless to say, these astronauts were later grounded and never had the opportunity to get woken up in space again.
6. ‘Free Fallin” – Tom Petty
Even in space, your favourites stick with you. Astronaut Susan Helms requested this Tom Petty classic twice as her wake-up choice — once on Atlantis and once more on Discovery, on the day she made the move to “leave this world for a while” and headed into the International Space Station for five months.
5. ‘Rocket Man’ – Elton John
Elton John’s space-age classic is perhaps the most title-appropriate song on our list, so no surprise ‘Rocket Man’ has played four times on Discovery and Atlantis, including on the morning of astronaut Doug Wheelock’s first spacewalk — a dedication from his earthbound bride who most likely chose because of this couplet: “I miss the Earth so much / I miss my wife / It’s lonely out in space.”
4. ‘Body Movin” – Beastie Boys
Even robots need to sleep. The wake-up call tradition extended beyond the astronauts in 2004 with the Mars Rover program as ground control beamed up daily songs to ‘wake up’ the rovers cruising the surface of Mars. On Martian Day 26 of Opportunity Rover’s mission, it got to stretch its limbs to ‘Body Movin” courtesy of Beastie Boys “up-rockin’ electro-shocking” rhymes about doing “the robotic satisfaction” — celebrating that it had finally exercised all its parts successfully.
3. ‘Where Is My Mind?’ – Pixies
Meanwhile, over on the other side of Mars, Spirit Rover woke on its 98th Martian day to the Pixies ‘Where Is My Mind?’ as it got the hang of some newly installed software. But it doesn’t seem to have been able to answer the alt-rock question — Spirit got stuck in 2009 and last communicated with Earth in 2010. On May 25, 2011, NASA made its last attempt to make contact but as it stands Spirit is still lost somewhere with no new songs to hear, not unlike a lot of Pixies fans.
2. ‘I Got You Babe’ – Sonny and Cher
Space travel has its fair share of delays, which usually means repeating the same preparations every day until it’s go time. In such situations, it’s become a bit of a running gag to play ‘I Got You Babe,’ the much-repeated wake-up song from the 1993 movie ‘Groundhog Day.’ It’s been played on Atlantis, Discovery and Endeavour, reaching a creative climax in December 2002 when Endeavour set a new record for the number of delayed landing attempts and the song came along with an audio clip from the Bill Murray classic, reminding astronauts not to forget their booties: “It’s coooold out there today!”
1. ‘Countdown’ – Rush
Canada brought more to the Shuttle Program than the Canadarm, and it came in the form of a Rush song. The iconic Canuck prog-rockers’ 1982 single ‘Countdown’ was wholly inspired by Columbia’s first trip in 1981, the first of the Shuttle Program. The song even samples audio from this launch and was played to wake up the crew on Columbia’s 27th flight in 2002, on the day the shuttle landed back on Earth for the last time. So it’s a pretty perfect pick to complete our wake-up song countdown as NASA’s space shuttle program enters T-Minus Zero.