50 years ago today, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first man to orbit the Earth. Twenty years later to the day the space shuttle era began with the maiden voyage of Columbia. Elvis Today joins the celebration by looking at the most played Elvis songs in space.
Use of music to awaken astronauts on space missions is a NASA tradition that stretches all the way back to the Gemini program in the mid 1960's. Picked by flight controllers or by crewmembers' friends and family members, the playlist is ranging from rock, country, classical, bluegrass and jazz, to children's' choruses and songs from the countries of international crewmembers.
The first time Elvis' music was used to wake up astronauts was on January 31, 1974, aboard the Skylab space station, when "Burning Love" was played. It would then take 17 years before an Elvis song would blast through the speakers aboard a spacecraft again, this time aboard the space shuttle Discovery. On the other hand, this was a mission where Elvis music was put to extensive use, just look at this:
STS-48 September 12-18, 1991
9/13/91 ―"Hound Dog" by Elvis Presley
9/14/91 ―"Release Me" by Elvis Presley. In anticipation of deployment of Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS).
9/16/91 ―"Are You Lonesome Tonight?" by Elvis Presley. Chosen for its line ―Are you sorry we drifted apart? referring to Discovery‘s separation from its payload (UARS)
9/17/91 ―"Return to Sender" by Elvis Presley. In honor of expected landing.
Two years later "Release Me" was used again on a Discovery mission (September 1993), together with "Heartbreak Hotel," although actually it wasn't Elvis who was singing this time, but well known Elvis impersonator Carl Walz on his maiden spaceflight. He had the unusual distinction of hearing his own voice singing for his first wakeup in space.
The real Elvis made an appearance one year later, when "Hound Dog" was used to wake up the astronauts on another Discovery mission, on September 15, 1994. And would you believe the same song was used the same month the next year, on September 8, 1995, aboard the shuttle Endeavour.
On the morning of December 3, 1996, "Return To Sender" was the choice to get the astronauts up on their feet, on a mission flown by space shuttle Columbia. Then, on the first shuttle mission to the International Space Station (ISS), "Hound Dog" was used for the third time, on December 12, 1998.
Ten years later, on Mars 19, 2008, the wheel had come full circle, when "Burning Love" was again played in space, on the shuttle Atlantis for Mission Specialist Mike Foreman. No Elvis song has been used since then to wake up astronauts.
To sum up, "Hound Dog" has been played three times, "Burning Love" and "Return To Sender" two times each, followed by "Release Me" and Are You Lonesome Tonight?" which were used one time each. Five Elvis' songs all together.
Now what song would you choose? If I was an American astronaut, I bet it would be an emotional moment looking out through a window down at the North American continent, listening to "An American Trilogy."
Learn more about NASA's wakeup calls