Melancholic feelings wash over us today as the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) prepares to send its 135th shuttle into space. Weather permitting, the space shuttle Atlantis will commence to make its ascent to the International Space Station at 11:26 a.m. EDT. It will be the last launch of the storied 30-year program.
We figure our spirits are the polar opposite sentiment Americans must have had on July 20, 1969, when families from coast- to-coast nestled by their black and white televisions to witness the first Moon landing by the American Apollo 11. That was one major "small step for mankind," today feels like two major steps back for Uncle Sam.
Presidents John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan must be rolling over in their graves knowing that NASA plans to hitch a ride on Russian rockets to get American astronauts into space -- until it contracts out its missions to private U.S. companies in a few years.
Let's focus on the positives though: NASA estimates that over one million people will be making the trek over to Cape Canaveral to witness the final launch today. With a little luck also, the wealthier half percent amongst us might just be able purchase a ticket to fly into space in our lifetime.
As the four astronauts riding the Atlantis to orbit -- Commander Chris Ferguson, Pilot Doug Hurley, and Mission Specialists Sandy Magnus and Rex Walheim -- prepare to take their seat in space travel's celestial pantheon, we'd like to offer up a little interstellar playlist to help them through their historic journey.
Feist-"My Moon My Man"
The sultry pace of the struttering first single off Feist's third full-length The Reminder will put our space voyagers mind at ease before liftoff. Its slight sexual undertones will keep them vigorous for the journey ahead as well. Feist unknowingly also captures the end of an era sentimentality that permeates through all of us today with her verse: "My care, my coat/ Leave on a high note/ There's nowhere to go but on."
Pink Flyod- "Astronomy Domine"
Syd Barrett didn't let the fact that he was bound by earth's gravity stop him, this 60s psychedelic Pied Piper logged more miles in space than Neil Armstrong and "Buzz" Aldrin combined. Hence, any respectable astronaut playlist includes at least one track from Pink Floyd's original and most lunatic of front man. This first track off the group's classic 1967 debut album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, translates to an astral chant, the word Domine vocative of "Lord" in Latin. We figure a good Gregorian astral chant between the astronauts will get morale up before the launch.
The Shonen Knife-"Riding on the Rocket"
The final countdown is steadily approaching. It's time to get everyone pumped; this churning track from our favorite Japanese all-girl group will do the trick. We are pretty sure that the trio chants some verses in Japanese here too, perfect, as the four travelers are going to the International Space Station and maybe need to brush up a little on their foreign language skills.
Billy Bragg-"The Space Race is Over"
We don't mean to get down and out again but this track off alternative British folkie Billy Bragg's fifth album William Bloke really nails how we are feeling today. Yes, the space race is most definitely over, the Russkies have won. Childhood dreams are shattered.
Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention-""Dwarf Nebula Processional March & Dwarf Nebula"
We can't tell you exactly where avant-garde rocker Frank Zappa was going with this title. Our best guess it is some planetary nebula that only exists in his mind. We can say however that all the spastic sounds heard here might come close to what Astronauts hear as their heads bobble around in their helmets during the space shuttle warped-speed ascension into outer space. Also worth noting, Frank Zappa is the only rock 'n roll artist we know that has his own asteroid named for him: 3834 Zappafrank. That simple fact makes Zappa a mandatory inclusion on any orbital traveler's iPod.
Dead Kennedys-"One Way Ticket to Pluto"
Many point to our 40th president Ronald Reagan as the impetus behind our country's renewed interest in space exploration during the 80s. A huge proponent of the NASA program, less than three months after Reagan took the oath of office, the Space Shuttle Columbia launched on its first mission. Some people say the best form of flattery is criticism. Well, if that's the case then iconoclastic punk rocker Jello Biafra--howling about Reagan's ambitions to lure our country into space war on this 1986 classic,-- must be head-over-heels for the former actor-turned-leader-of-the-free-world.
Devo- "Space Junk"
Kitchy seminal new wave act Devo bring up a valid point in this jerky number from it's 1978 debut Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!: space debris really is not something to mess with. As the astronauts maneuver their way to their final destination, they will assuredly have to avoid many a wayward satellite and errant space rock.
The Pixies-"The Planet of Sound"
This bombastic track from the Pixies' final full-length Trompe le Monde just makes us incessantly want to thrown devil horns up in the air. It tells the story of an alien astronaut literally scouring the solar system for rock and roll, pretty heavy right?. We picture the astronauts cranking this one and headbanging to it as they make their steady approach to the International Space Station.
The Rolling Stones-"2000 Light Years From Home"
While not exactly 2000 light years from home, our weary expeditionists might take a peek back at the the good green earth they left behind and feel that they are. Additionally this song off the Rolling Stones trippiest album, 1967's Their Satanic Majesties Request, was reportedly written by Mick Jagger following his conviction on drug charges in June 1967. We'd say he must of written it from an authentic space traveler's point of view, without question.
Peter Schilling-"Major Tom (Coming Home)"
This 1983 sequel to David Bowie's "Space Oddity" ends on a much happier note than the letter, with Peter Schilling's Major Tom making it home safe and sound and not being lost in space. We think our brave astronauts will appreciate this tune's positive message as they make their decent back home.
Travel safely, comrades.