Space Jams: NASA’s Musical Wakeup Calls


Spaceflight tosses everything humans consider mundane and routine out the window. Objects don’t fall when dropped, you’re constantly moving at thousands of miles an hour, and you can’t rely on the sun to wake you up. On that last point, the International Space Station travels around the circumference of the Earth every 90 minutes. That’s one sunrise and sunset per ninety minutes, which is not very conducive to a maintainable sleep schedule. So, NASA sets defined sleep and wake up times for the astronauts. To wake them up, NASA uses personal wake up calls featuring music to set the theme for the day. What is the music NASA chooses for their space jams?

The best way to describe the music is uplifting. NASA has a large database online of the wake up calls going back to the days of the Gemini program in the 1960’s before Apollo ( The list of artists selected is very diverse. Elvis, the Beatles, and movie soundtracks tend to be very popular.

The song choice tends to be related to the mission of the day. Some songs of note are “Light my Fire” used to wake up Apollo 17 before they performed the rocket burn to leave lunar orbit and return to Earth. The theme from “2001: A Space Odyssey” was played to wake up Apollo 15 astronauts before attempting to land on the moon. The first mission after the Challenger disaster is the clip above, with comedian Robin Williams doing his best to keep the spirits of the astronauts high. Live music has been used as well. Sir Paul McCartney performed a live wake up call to the ISS in 2005.

The wake up calls are also specific to the astronauts, with Alma Maters of colleges attended used frequently, or the fight song of the military branch. Also, wake up calls intended for a particular astronaut will often be made by his or her family member.

The tradition continues every day as the International Space Station is permanently manned 250 miles above the earth’s surface, whizzing around at 17,000 mph. Wake up calls are not just for astronauts. NASA has symbolically sent “wake up calls” to its rovers and robotic spacecraft. Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity were twin rovers sent on the same mission and received the wakeup call “So Happy Together” on their first day of work together.

NASA music pic 2

The wakeup music used by NASA is a keen reminder of the human element of space exploration. It is a little reminder of the world below the astronaut’s pressurized tin can homes. It is hard to imagine the isolation you would feel living 250 miles above the world, but hearing “Let it Be” to wake you up in the morning must make it a little more welcoming.

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