Listen to the story.
[Excerpt from Michael Stipe singing “Man on the Moon” by REM]
Michael Stipe: Good morning, Atlantis. This is Michael Stipe from REM. We wish you much success on your mission, from Earth. A very good morning to you.
Marco Werman: And that is how astronauts on the space shuttle Atlantis woke up one day in 2011. And it’s part of a long tradition. After the astronauts take a nap, NASA uses music to wake them up. We ask the space agency’s chief historian, Bill Barry, to take us back.
Bill Barry: Actually, yeah Marco, it started back in the Gemini program in 1965, Wally Schirra and Tom Stafford. Wally was known as a big jokester, and I suspect he was surprised by another astronaut who serenaded them with “Hello Dolly” to start the day one morning.
Werman: Why “Hello Dolly”? Who selected that?
Barry: I suspect there’s some inside joke, knowing Wally Schirra, but.
Werman: Okay. So, who’s been the best NASA DJ over the years?
Barry: Astronauts, when they’re speaking to the ground, always talk through a CAPCOM, the capsule communicator. So, the person who’s the interface between the folks in mission control and the astronauts, who talks on the radio to the astronauts, is always another astronaut. As the tradition grew during the shuttle program, CAPCOMs would go out to family members and ask “Is there something that your family member who’s up there would like to hear a song for?”
Werman: Have any musical trends emerged over the years?
Barry: Of course there’s songs about space that crop up all the time--”Rocket Man” and...
Werman: David Bowie’s “Space Oddity.”
Barry: David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” and songs about being up and looking down at things. “Up On The Roof” by James Taylor has been used numerous times.
Werman: I hear it can get downright silly, like crew of the shuttle mission STS-69 was known apparently as the Dog Crew II. Because of that, they got things like this played for them.
[Excerpt from Baha Men’s “Who Let The Dogs Out”]
[Excerpt from Kenneth Cockrell talking to Houston]
Werman: That would be “Taco” pilot Kenneth Cockrell responding there to Houston. So, you’ve got a favorite silly wakeup call initiated I gather by CAPCOM Sally Ride--the late Sally Ride. That was for the second space shuttle mission.
[Excerpt from Pigs in Space]
Barry: Yeah, STS-2. Sally Ride was at CAPCOM and she woke the crew up with a sketch from Pigs in Space.
Werman: The Muppets movie.
Barry: The Muppets show.
Werman: And then there are some fairly emotional wakeup moments. I’m thinking of Columbia’s last flight. All seven crew members were killed when the orbiter broke up upon reentry.
Barry: At the time, nobody was expecting that to happen. That crew particularly was a very tight crew that waited a long time to fly, their mission kept getting shfited, so they got to know each other very well. And they were all a relatively religious crew. That became a theme for them, as they had a lot of inspirational music played up to them.
[Excerpt from the song “Amazing Grace” by the Black Watch and the band of 51 Highland Brigade]
[Excerpt from Houston talking with STS-2]
Werman: In that clip, mission specialist Laurel Clark. That was her first space flight and I gather that version of “Amazing Grace” had been played at her wedding, then later at her funeral. This seems, in some ways, more than a tradition. It sounds like culture at NASA.
Barry: Well, it is in a lot of ways. That sort of sense of teamwork and camraderie, and the little bit of fun on the side too when we’re doing a job that we all love and enjoy. That really comes through in the wakeup song tradition.
Werman: Now that the shuttle flights are no more, do you think some tradition of playing music into space will continue?
Barry: Interesting enough, the wakeup call tradition actually was picked up by our friends out at the jet propulsion laboratory, the folks who run all those robotic rovers that wander around the surface of Mars. Of course, you don’t have to wake up a robot. But the crew on the ground that’s managing the mission that day, they’ve also picked up that tradition of having wakeup calls to start the day.
Werman: Bill, I would love to offer a suggestion for some wakeup music. This is a CD I kept in my CD clock radio for years. It’s Django Reinhardt, called “Improvisation #1.”
Barry: Sounds like a great idea. I’ll pass it along to our folks down in Houston.
Werman: Well, Bill Barry, NASA’s chief historian. It’s been great speaking with you. Thank you.
Barry: You too, Marco.
[Excerpt from Django Reinhardt’s “Improvisation #1”]
Werman: The World’s theme music was composed by Eric Goldberg. From our studios at WGBH here in Boston, I’m Marco Werman. Enjoy your weekend and sleep in.