The following is an excerpt from my newly finished book “Before This Decade is Out.”
In 1965, NASA began waking up astronauts in orbit with music. The Gemini 6 flight was the first, with a recording of Jack Jones singing “Hello Wally”, a specially recorded parody of “Hello Dolly” from the 1964 Broadway musical. The music was selected by Houston, and the practice continued through the end of the Space Shuttle program in 2011. The crew of Apollo 16 was awoken every day by “Also Sprach Zarathustra“, while Apollo 17 awoke to “Ride of the Valkyries“.
The astronauts themselves were finally given the chance to choose the soundtrack of their flights on the flight of Apollo 9 in March of 1969. NASA had begun supplying astronauts with early prototypes of the Sony Walkman to record voice notes. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any definitive list of all the songs brought along by the astronauts, but here are at least some notes on their choices.
For Apollo 9, Lunar Module Pilot Rusty Schwieckart brought along a tape of classical music, which wasn’t able to find until the ninth day of the ten day mission.
Apollo 10 had flown to the Moon accompanied by Frank Sinatra and his hit “Fly Me to the Moon” on a tape put together by Lunar Module Pilot Gene Cernan and his friend Al Bishop.
For Apollo 11, Neil Armstrong asked for bandleader Les Baxter’s Theremin-infused 1947 album “Music Out of the Moon.” Buzz Aldrin suggested “People” by Barbra Streisand and “Spinning Wheel” by Blood, Sweat & Tears. Michael Collins requested “Everyone’s Gone to the Moon” by Jonathan King.
As seen and heard in the 7th episode the excellent HBO miniseries “From Earth to the Moon“, the Apollo 12 crew brought along a tape that included “Sugar, Sugar” by the Archies, which hit the top of the Billboard charts just six weeks before the mission’s launch. The tape also included Dusty Springfield’s groovy “Son of a Preacher Man.”
Commander Jim Lovell recalled listening to the soundtrack from the movie “2001,” the aforementioned “Also sprach Zarathustra”. Given the intense focus on the accident and the desperate effort to save the crew, little seems to have been written about their musical choices.
The Apollo 14 crew’s tapes included songs by Marvin Gaye, Simon and Garfunkel, and the Beatles. It also included the classic Buck Owens hit “Act Naturally“, complete with a customized introduction from Buck himself.
Apollo 16’s Command Module Pilot Ken Mattingly played Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique as he orbited along while the rest of the crew was romping on the lunar surface.
As for live performances, the NASA archives includes Cernan breaking out in an impromptu adaptation of the song “While Strolling Through the Park One Day” from a 1941 Disney Mickey Mouse cartoon. Lunar Module Pilot Harrison Schmidt joined in, before they stopped abruptly, unable to remember the rest of the lyrics!