Nasa astronauts Bob Behnken (L) and Doug Hurley will fly on SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft
Nasa / SpaceX
From the late 60s onwards, Nasa would wake orbiting astronauts with music. “Everybody on board looked forward to it,” says astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson, who was part of the ISS crew from April 4 to September 25, 2010. “It was fun in a team-building way.”
Early missions were dominated by classical and military music, reflecting the gravity, so to speak, of the space programme. When astronauts first began spending months in space on Skylab in the 70s, the music got more “fun”, with classical replaced by jazz and pop.
After the development of the Space Shuttle, the astronaut corps expanded, with more pilots sourced from the US Navy and Air force, and scientists from top universities. The wake-up songs from this period are dominated by university anthems and military marches.
Over the later years of the Shuttle program, tastes softened – especially after the Cold War ended – and Mission Control began asking astronauts’ families to pick songs, which began to reflect what the astronauts themselves liked: soft rock, a bit of country, and TV and movie themes. The Beatles are the most commonly played band in space, while Nasa’s astronaut house band Max-Q are fifth (Caldwell Dyson is their lead singer).
The controllers on the ground also use music to play jokes on the astronauts – for the mission that fixed the Hubble Space Telescope, they packed in the visual puns, culminating in “I Can See For Miles” by The Who. When a planned return to Earth got delayed twice in a row, crew were woken by “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” – it was early July. When the team had to repeat the same tasks two days in a row, Houston roused them with “I Got You Babe” – the song that torments Bill Murray in Groundhog Day.
This week, manned American-run missions to the ISS will resume, thanks to the SpaceX Crew Dragon vehicle coming into service – since 2011, launches have relied on Russian Soyuz craft. That means wake-up songs are set for a comeback. Caldwell Dyson is part of the Houston ground crew in charge of communications and is charged with setting the music on future missions.
On a recent flight, manned only by a test dummy named Rosie, they did a test run. “One of our flight engineers penned her a song called ‘Rosie and the Storage Bags’ and we bought the mics up and I gave her a cheerful ‘Good Morning’ and some happy words to start her day, as a prep for when we have a human crew,” Caldwell Dyson says. “There is every intention to continue this great tradition.”
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