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This Is The Music That's Traveled To The Moon

Apollo 11 astronauts Edwin Aldrin Jr. (left), and Neil Armstrong in a training exercise on April 22, 1969.

As we mark the 50th anniversary of the July 20, 1969 Apollo 11 moon landing, let's look at the role of music in lunar spaceflight—from music used to wake up space travelers, to astronauts' personal playlists, to music representing life on Earth.

Playing your favorite music has a way of making you feel at home, whether you’re commuting to your job, taking a road trip, or traveling across the globe. So it’s not surprising that astronauts, hurtling hundreds of thousands of miles from Earth, have wanted some familar melodies around. Here are some examples of  music played during missions to the moon and beyond. 

Join us on WRTI 90.1 on Friday, July 19 and Saturday, July 20 for moon- and space-inspired music!

Apollo 11 (July 1969). The first spacecraft to land on the moon, was manned by Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins.  Armstrong took along a cassette tape of tracks from the 1947 album Music out of the Moon by Lex Baxter.

Crewmember Michael Collins says they listened to “Everyone’s Gone to the Moon,” on personal recorders. 

As for classical music? Legend has it that when Neil Armstrong took those famous steps onto the moon, they played Dvorak’s New World Symphony, composed in 1893.  The theme of the third movement was adapted in "Going Home," a 1922 folk song with lyrics by Dvorak's pupil William Arms Fisher, and recorded by Paul Robeson at Carnegie Hall in 1958. 

Subsequent lunar missions brought along other classical music:

In 1971, on Apollo 15—whose command module was named Odyssey—the opening of Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra, which was used in the theme of 2001: A Space Odyssey, was used as a wake up for the crew each day. 

The next year, Apollo 16’s Ken Mattingly brought along Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique, perhaps to listen to while he orbited the moon when crewmates John Young and Charlie Duke left the capsule to work on the lunar surface.

During the last Apollo mission to the moon in December 1972,  Apollo 17’s crew was awakened with Wagner’s Ride of the Valkeries.

And what music was deliberately sent to space in a time capsule in the Voyager Space Mission of 1977 to represent us Earthlings? The Golden Record included 90 minutes of music.

Classical selections included: 

Bach, Brandenburg Concerto No. 2, Movement 1 

Bach,  The Well Tempered Clavier, Book 2

Bach, Gavotte En Rondeau, from Partita No. 3 in E Major

Beethoven, Fifth Symphony, Movement 1

Mozart,  The Magic Flute, Queen of the Night Aria

Stravinsky, The Rite of Spring, Sacrificial Dance

Susan writes and produces stories about music and the arts. She’s host and producer of WRTI’s TIME IN online interview series, and contributes weekly intermission interviews for The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert series. She’s also been a regular host of WRTI’s Live from the Performance Studio sessions.