Mixtapes for Moon Missions

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.

Apollo 14

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.


The Apollo 15 tapes included songs like “My Girl” by the Temptations, The Animal’s cover of “The House of the Rising Sun“, and  “Jesus Christ Superstar” soundtrack.


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! 










The In-Flight Menu: Food in the Space Race

An excerpt from Before This Decade is Out

Yuri Gagarin was the first man in orbit, and the first man to attempt eating and drinking in space. Soviet and American doctors weren’t sure if it could even be done, so it was a priority to find out as soon as possible. During his flight, Gagarin sampled from a toothpaste-style tube containing meat paste and one containing chocolate sauce. Other foods used in the early Soviet missions included soups, cottage cheese and coffee, all of which were stored in the tube containers.

John Glenn became the first American to eat in space. He, Scott Carpenter, Wally Schirra, and Gordon Cooper were treated to an unappetizing diet consisting of pureed foods sucked with a straw out of aluminum tubes. They proved that humans could chew and swallow, as well as drink, while in orbit. The menu included things like apple sauce and pureed beef and vegetables.  There were also cubes of dehydrated foods packed in plastic. These would be rehydrated as they were chewed.

For the longer duration Gemini missions, NASA introduced freeze-dried, pre-cooked foods. These were usually coated with oil or gelatin to prevent crumbling and packed in a thick plastic bag with a valve for water at one end. Cold water from the spacecraft was used to rehydrate the food for consumption and the bag would be cut open with scissors. The menu included shrimp cocktail, beef stew, chicken and rice, and turkey with gravy. Fruit flavored drinks and cocoa were available Three meals were provided per day and the menu was repeated every four days. One example breakfast meal included peaches, bacon squares, cinnamon toast bread cubes, grape drink, and orange drink.[1] Each day, the diet provided for 2,500 calories.

Things improved on Apollo. The meal plan provided the astronauts with 2,800 calories per day. The variety of freeze-dried foods increased. The Command Module provided hot water as well as cold. The packaging was easier to open and the food could be eaten with a spoon. In addition, food could also be stored in Wet Packs that didn’t need to be rehydrated. The selection of drinks expanded to include coffee, tea and lemonade. Over the course of the program, the astronauts were given more freedom to choose their own meals. New items were added to the menus, including hot dogs and ham. Free flowing salt and pepper would have created a terrible mess, so liquid alternatives were provided. If the Command Module was depressurized for any reason, the astronauts would be able to eat liquid foods through a port built into their helmets.

For the cosmonauts, the tubes remained in use but were bolstered can canned foods and foods contained in plastic pouches. Bread was baked in one-bite rolls to prevent crumbs. Meat, including veal, ham, and steak was prepared just before launch. The Soviets didn’t begin experimenting with dehydrated foods until 1974 aboard Salyut 3.[2] The Soviets also allowed cosmonauts small rations of vodka and brandy.

Oh, before I forget. Two notes about famous space foods.

John Glenn did drink Tang on his orbital mission. It was also carried aboard some Gemini flights. It was not, however, created by or for NASA. William Mitchell created it for General Foods, who began marketing it in 1957. Mitchell is the same clever guy who gave us Cool Whip and Pop Rocks candy.

And that freeze-dried Astronaut Ice Cream people loved to buy at souvenir stores? NASA had mistakenly included it on a list of foods aboard the Apollo 7 mission, but it didn’t actually make the cut. Because of its crumbly nature, it would have created too much of a mess in microgravity.

[1] https://www.nasa.gov/pdf/143163main_Space.Food.and.Nutrition.pdf

[2] Comparison Of Soviet And U.S. Space Food And Nutrition Programs, Page 1-8, https://ntrs.nasa.gov/archive/nasa/casi.ntrs.nasa.gov/19890010688.pdf

Writing Space History – Part I

I am wrapping up my first week of working full time on a book I’m called “Before This Decade Is Out.” It’s a history of the Space Race, of the American Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs; the Soviet Vostok, Voshkod and Soyuz missions; and the memories of the people who worked on the ground at the Kennedy Space Center. As I prepared to publish my father’s memoirs, I realized that there were thousands of other people with their own perspective of life at the Cape. I’ve read the books about and by the astronauts and other key figures, but I wanted to know more about what the grunts doing the work on the ground to make the programs a success.

John Glenn boarding Friendship 7 before becoming the first American to orbit the Earth on February 20, 1962.

Hence, the new book. I’m seeking out those eyewitnesses who are still with us to find out what their experiences were from the time. I’ve had to figure out how best to record telephone or video chats (OBS Studio is my friend), and how to efficiently transcribe them. While I’m searching for more interviews, I’ve created the basic structure of the book. It’s organized chronologically, with a series of entries about the missions, the astronauts and the key events that took place from 1958 to 1973.

Apollo 12 Command Module Pilot Dick Gordon orbiting the moon aboard the Yankee Clipper.

Writing history requires accurate sources, and here I’m eternally grateful to the work of the early NASA historians, whose comprehensive works are available online. Other sources were written by historians or the participants themselves. Notable among them so far is flight controller Gene Kranz’s autobiography Failure Is Not an Option, Andrew Chaikan’s A Man on the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts, and Moon Shot, which includes memories from astronauts Alan Shepard and Deke Slayton. The writing requires a measure of precision. Not all of the sources agree on the details, which becomes a distraction and requires additional research. Finding just the right words to explain concepts, like orbital maneuvering, takes time and requires frequent rewrites.

The ascent stage of a Lunar Module being prepared for flight.

The first draft is going to take at least several more weeks, but this is a passion project for me. And when all is said and done, I hope you’ll enjoy the amazing story I’m trying to tell!