"I'll go where your music takes me..."

André Kuipers in Cupola on ISS
16 January 2012

Music has accompanied humans into space since the earliest years of spaceflight. Music and space, it seems, have a deep association, with some pieces becoming permanently connected with space in popular culture.

Some music certainly remains in the collective consciousness: the Blue Danube waltz by Johann Strauss reminds us of the classic scene in the film ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ where a Shuttle docks with an orbiting space station. But the first notes to be heard in space were those of some Hawaiian music broadcast to the crew of Gemini 7 in December 1965.

In the late 1960s, the first compact cassette tapes were being taken on Apollo flights. These tapes were loaded with music, but were recorded over as the astronauts used them to store data and observations. Apollo 8 was the first mission to carry such tapes, with songs specially recorded by country and western star Buck Owens.

Space station from 2001: A Space Odyssey

The first Moon landing crew of Apollo 11 famously carried Dvorak’s New World Symphony. By the time Apollo 15 went to the Moon in 1971, tastes had become more varied, with songs by The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, The Moody Blues and, of course, Frank Sinatra’s ‘Fly me to the Moon’.

Why do astronauts take music into space? NASA astronaut Steve Robinson said, “It’s one of the most personal things that you’re able to take up in space. Wherever your music is, that’s sort of a version of home.”

Indeed, music has an effect on memories and associations, and there are some notable studies on the positive effects of music on performance, learning and attention. Music can aid relaxation and help the body to release hormones, including oxitocyn which stimulates positive teamwork and empathy.

ESA astronaut Thomas Reiter on Mir

But music also comes in handy for cross-cultural cooperation in space. While preparing for a Shuttle mission to the Mir space station, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield knew he would meet up with ESA astronaut Thomas Reiter, an accomplished classical guitarist.

Hadfield also knew that an old guitar left on Mir was broken, so he had a new electric guitar modified and made foldable to fit his luggage. United in space, Hadfield and Reiter were able to sing pop songs and Russian folk ballads.

Music has the power to inspire, and it can convey emotions often much better than written words. Hadfield said, “There are certain stanzas of music, certain harmonies, certain lyrics, which sometimes just send a warm rush up your backbone. And you get that almost continuously up there.”

Expedition 30's Dan Burbank with guitar

As the current ESA astronaut on the ISS, André Kuipers feels the same way. He is a big music lover, with wide tastes, from Armin van Buuren to Albinoni, and Vangelis to Vaughan-Williams. For off-duty moments during his busy five-month PromISSe mission, André wanted to get his playlist just right, and spent a lot of time collecting music with the help of his family and friends.

But unlike his mission in 2004, when André carried three Minidiscs with him, or earlier astronauts who took tapes into space, today’s musical choices are transmitted as digital files to the ISS, much like when we download tunes for our laptops or smartphones (for those who can play, there is also a keyboard installed on the ISS).

Marillion's Steve Hogarth and Steve Rothery visit ESTEC

Music can be both very personal and yet connect many people so, just as André’s playlist is personal to him, it also has the potential for other people to take inspiration from those same songs. André has agreed to let us see his playlist, helping us to share his experience on the ISS and adding another dimension to our imagination.

Adding to this celebration of music in space, several bands and artists sent greetings when they found out that André was a fan of their music, including the UK band rock band Marillion, Nick Mason of Pink Floyd, Dutch household names Fluitsma and Van Tijn and guitarist Harry Sacksioni.

Because of his great interest in music, André also appeared on the popular Dutch national Radio 2 Top 2000 music programme on Christmas Day, heard by a record 11.2 million listeners of all ages. The featured Top2000 songs are also included his playlist.

You can download the full list of André’s music at: Playlist[web].pdf

To see André’s tune of the day, check out his daily logbook at: blogs.esa.int/andre-kuipers

If you want to write or dedicate a song to André, or suggest more songs for his playlist, drop us a line at: contactesa@esa.int

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