Rise and Shine! Astronauts Get Wake-Up Music in Space

Some people wake to the jarring sound of an alarm clock, others to the gentle nuzzle of a hungry house pet. During NASA's shuttle program, astronauts regularly woke to a carefully chosen musical selection—and many on the International Space Station still do today.

Where No One Can Hear You Croon

Though NASA hasn't kept strict records of its music playlists over the years, NASA archivist and historian Colin Fries took it upon himself to hunt down every musical selection played for an astronaut since the beginning of the tradition. According to his records, the first instance of music being played to awaken NASA crewmembers happened on the Gemini VI mission in 1965. Those astronauts got "Hello, Dolly!" by crooner Jack Jones. Why didn't the crews on earlier missions get wake-up music? Well, because they didn't need to wake up: before Gemini VI, missions were relatively short.

The role of official space DJ is played by Mission Control CAPCOM, or Capsule Communicator, though musical selections are sometimes chosen by the astronauts' friends and family members. According to NASA, "most wakeup calls are musical, but sometimes include dialog from movies or TV shows." In general, the choices are made to suit the astronauts' personal tastes, although CAPCOM can get surprisingly creative.

In 2005, CAPCOM Shannon Lucid radioed the crew of the Discovery with Dire Straits' "Walk of Life," in honor of astronauts Steve Robinson's and Soichi Noguchi's upcoming repair work on the International Space Station.

Playin' the Hits From 250 Miles Below

As you might expect, many of the tracks match a theme: Fries's list includes David Bowie's "Space Oddity" on three separate occasions, and Elton John's "Rocket Man" six. Some songs are a tongue-in-cheek reference to the missions themselves: in 2002, the crew of the Space Shuttle Endeavour were about to wake to yet another day repeating the same deorbit activities because of lousy landing weather when CAPCOM began to play "I Got You Babe" by Sonny and Cher—the song that Bill Murray's character repeatedly wakes up to in the movie Groundhog Day. Celebrity voices, like those of William Shatner, Jim Henson, and James Earl Jones are also a popular occurrence. In 1991, Patrick Stewart woke the crew of the Atlantis with a take on the familiar opening lines to Star Trek: Next Generation.

Though NASA's space shuttle program ended in 2011, the tradition carries on with the International Space Station. In 2015, for example, Italian astronaut Samantha Crisoforetti awoke to Franco Battiato's ballad "La Cura." The apt choice didn't escape the astronaut, who tweeted some of the lyrics: "le correnti gravitazionali, lo spazio, e la luce," or "the gravitational currents, space, and light."

How Do You Sleep in Space?

Written by Ashley Hamer May 2, 2017

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