August 18, 2022

The astronaut’s playlist: Groovy songs for space travelers

The astronaut’s playlist: Groovy songs for space travelers
The astronaut’s playlist: Groovy songs for space travelersThe astronaut’s playlist: Groovy songs for space travelers

When you’re out exploring the universe, what kind of music should you listen to?

The answer is very personal to the spaceflyer, the culture and perhaps even the decade when they flew — but what is true to say of all eras is there is a heck of a lot of great space music out there. Some even were played in space, like this list of NASA wakeup songs for astronauts, or this playlist from the Voyager mission Golden Record that eventually left our solar system.

It’s hard to pick favorites and even more difficult to build a list of suggestions, but we’ve done our best. In 2011, the Space.com staff came up with a few favorites and now we have updated that top pick list for the 2020s. Below, we also added a huge table with space music over the decades, based on our research.

A couple of cautions here. Our staff is North American and European and as such, we stuck with English-language songs or instrumental songs so as not to make any cultural mistakes. But we’d love to hear your suggestions for international music in the forum.

We also tried to stick with songs that are family-friendly, but we advise that parents should prescreen this list of music before showing these selections to their kids.

Enjoy these selections!

1) Space Oddity cover by astronaut Chris Hadfield (2013)

In 2013, then-International Space Station commander Chris Hadfield released this famous space tune from his home in orbit. 

He received permission from original composer David Bowie to perform the work and created an epic video, thanks to the help of fellow crewmates. 

Note that Hadfield recorded the whole thing during his limited spare time in space, while running the most scientifically productive crew on the station of the era.

2) Drops of Jupiter by Train (2001)

This evocative song could be interpreted as a woman who has just returned from an epic spaceflight, or who has undertaken a spiritual journey that fundamentally changed her viewpoint on the world. 

The poetry in this music is very soulful and representative of the “boy bands” singing of their loves in the early 2000s: “Now that she’s back in the atmosphere / With drops of Jupiter in her hair / She acts like summer and walks like rain / Reminds me that there’s a time to change.”

3) We’re All Made of Stars by Moby (2002)

There are so many space songs from Moby over the years that, like Bowie, it’s hard to pick a single favorite. But this one sticks out thanks to its focus on unifying humanity through realizing we all ultimately come from the same origin story:

 “People, they come together / People, they fall apart / And no one can stop us now/ ‘Cause we are all made of stars.”

4) Just Look Up by Ariana Grande and Kid Cudi (2021)

This song comes from one of the most clever space movies of recent history. 

Don’t Look Up” parodies the climate change crisis by showing two astronomers tracking a deadly comet (the scientists are played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence) trying desperately to warn the public and politicians of the impending danger in the age of memes, tweets and TikTok. 

Ariana Grande, who plays a musician in the film, helps deliver this powerful piece at a stadium rally, late in the film.

5) Space Junk by DEVO (1978)

The yellow-suited Akron, Ohio, spudboys of Devo came up with this catchy space junk-themed number back in the 1970s. 

The ever-growing problem of space junk is even more alarming today than back then, as constellations of satellites fly into space on the regular. We’ve already seen some bad collisions and there are worries the pace of crashes could accelerate.

6) I Don’t Want to Live on the Moon by Sesame Street’s Ernie (1991)

In this song, Ernie, the beloved Sesame Street character (voiced by Jim Henson), sings plaintively of the many sacrifices he would have to make should he reside on the moon, then decides such a life would be too burdensome to bear. 

While Ernie may not want to live on the moon, NASA sure does. The space agency’s Artemis program is currently aiming to return astronauts to the moon around 2025 or so and build a Lunar Gateway station in orbit around Earth’s nearest neighbor. It’s not clear yet if NASA will offer seats to Sesame Street characters, or any other Muppets, when they make the trip.

7) Space Baby by The Tubes (1975)

From the eponymous debut album by the theatrical S.F. rockers who created “White Punks on Dope” comes this epic mid-70s song of interstellar questing. 

“I dig my atmosphere machine” is an appropriate lyric, though “burning green like a rhomboid sun” suggests a heretofore undiscovered stellar form — or possibly just too much of those Fog City drugs.

8) Spacelab by Kraftwerk (1978)

The German synth-gods Krafterk, who usually sing about the autobahn and robots, took a side trip to space in this electronic ode to a space station on their “Man-Machine” album, likely inspired by then-current Skylab.

Skylab, NASA’s first space station, launched in May 1973 and hosted several different crews before NASA ended the program. The space station fell from orbit on July 11, 1979.

9) ‘Fly Me to the Moon’ by Frank Sinatra in 1954 (and many others since)

In this Frank Sinatra classic, the song’s narrator of the well-known tune not only wants to be flown to the moon, but wishes to “play among the stars” and “see what spring is like on Jupiter and Mars.”  

After that first verse, though, the space conceit is dropped in favor of love song boilerplate, but we think it counts!

10) The Galaxy Song by Eric Idle/Monty Python (1983)

This hilarious song scarcely needs description — it’s an astronomy lesson set to music as recorded by actor Eric Idle and the Monty Python gang in 1983.

This  analysis of the lyrics by Paul Kohlmiller of the San Jose Astronomical Association determines that the facts stated in the lyrics are largely correct. Check it out.

11) The Final Countdown by Europe (1986)

The epic scope and majesty of this song cannot be unheard, in that glorious 1980s mega-pop vibe. 

We also adore the cynicism of people who are leaving our planet for what might be the last time: “We’re leavin’ together / But still it’s farewell / And maybe we’ll come back / To Earth, who can tell?”

12) Starlight by Muse (2006)

Speaking of cynical space tunes, we love this one for its spaceflyer’s worries about being in space separated from someone they love. “Starlight / I will be chasing a starlight / Until the end of my life / I don’t know if it’s worth it anymore.”

12) Starman by David Bowie (1969)

We know, this song is played a lot on soundtracks, but it can be interpreted concerning everything from Earth astronauts to some sort of aliens. 

“There’s a starman waiting in the sky /  He’d like to come and meet us /  But he thinks he’d blow our minds.”

More recently, Disney and Pixar used Bowie’s “Starman” as the soundtrack for teaser trailers for the new animated film “Lightyear” about the intrepid Space Ranger Buzz Lightyear.

13) The Space Race Is Over by Billy Bragg (1996)

The author of many politically charged songs reflects on his childhood memories of watching the Apollo space missions, but bitterly concludes that “Now that the space race is over / It’s been and it’s gone, and I’ll never get to the moon.”

14) Emily by Joanna Newsom (2006)

Delicate-voiced indie/folk darling Joanna Newsom wrote the song “Emily” about her sister, an astronomer. The distinctions between meteors, meteorites and meteoroids are discussed within.

Honorable Mentions

Space.com staffers came up with a huge list of other songs they enjoy, which we’ve put in order of preference.

  • “Reach for the Stars” — will.i.am (recorded in commemoration for the 2012 Curiosity rover landing)
  • “Under the Milky Way” — Church
  • “Valentina” — Komputer
  • “There’s a Moon in the Sky (Called the Moon)” — B-52s
  • “It’s Not” — Aimee Mann
  • “I Wish I Was the Moon” — Neko Case
  • “Space Travel Is Boring” — Modest Mouse
  • “Man on the Moon” — R.E.M.
  • “Star Trek: First Contact” theme — Jerry Goldsmith (one Space.com writer played it while walking down the aisle)
  • “A Space Boy Dream” — Belle & Sebastian
  • “Puttin’ People on the Moon” — Drive-By Truckers
  • “Teenage Spaceship” — Smog
  • “The Space Race” — Destroyer
  • “Walking On the Moon” — The Police (Notably, the video for the song was filmed at Kennedy Space Center.)
  • “2,000 Light Years from Home” — The Rolling Stones
  • “Stellar” — Incubus
  • “Space Truckin'” — Deep Purple
  • “Black Hole Sun” — Soundgarden
  • “We Care” — MGMT
  • “The Planets Bend Between Us” — Snow Patrol
  • “Galaxies” — Laura Veirs
  • “Space Game” —MC Lars
  • “Black Star” — Radiohead
  • “Mambo Sun” —T.Re
  • “Tomorrow’s Girls” —Donald Fagen
  • “Satellite of Love” — Lou Reed
  • “Space Monkey” — Patti Smith
  • “Deluxe Men in Space” — Man or Astro-Man?
  • “Jupiter” — Gustav Holst 
  • “The Blue Danube” — Johann Strauss II (but only for spaceship dockings)
  • “Dwarf Nebula Processional March & Dwarf Nebula” — Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention
  • “Telstar” — The Tornados
  • “Space Invader” — The Pretenders
  • “Approaching Pavonis Mons by Balloon (Utopia Planitia)” — Flaming Lips

Below is a huge starting list of space music that we have organized by era. This is not meant to be the complete list of space-y tunes, as there are likely millions out there, but based on our research we have found quite a few songs to get you started. For simplicity, we have ordered these songs by approximate year of release. 

Before 1970

Name Artist Year
When You Wish Upon A Star Cliff Edwards 1940
Swinging On A Star Bing Crosby 1945
Sputnik (Satellite Girl) Jerry Engler and the Four Ekkos 1957
The Sputnik Story Bill Thomas 1957
Shake It Over Sputnik Bill Hogan 1958
Blue Moon of Kentucky Elvis Presley 1959
Blue Moon The Marcels 1961
Happy Blues For John Glenn Sam “Lightning” Hopkins 1962
Telstar Tornados 1962
The Ballad of John Glenn Roy West 1962
I’ll Follow the Sun The Beatles 1964
Full Moon and Empty Arms Frank Sinatra 1965
‘Star Trek’: The Original Series Theme Alexander Courage 1966
Spaceman’s Salute Hank Elder 1966
Across the Universe The Beatles 1968
Aquarius (Let the Sun Shine In) The 5th Dimension 1969
Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins The Byrds 1969
Good Morning Starshine Oliver 1969
Here Comes the Sun George Harrison 1969
The Walk of Ed White Up With People 1969

1970-1979

Name Artist Year
Moondance Van Morrison 1970
Planet Caravan Black Sabbath 1970
Balloons of Mars T. Rex 1972
Dancing in the Moonlight King Harvest 1972
Pink Moon Nick Drake 1972
Starman David Bowie 1972
Supersonic Rocket Ship The Kinks 1972
Eclipse Pink Floyd 1973
Moon Rock Dory Previn 1973
Solar Fire Manfred Mann’s Earth Band 1973
39 Queen 1975
Shining Star Earth, Wind & Fire 1975
Sirens Of Titan Al Stewart 1975
Calling Occupants Of Interplanetary Craft The Carpenters 1976
Outer Space/Inner Space Jim Irwin and the Johnny Mann Singers 1976
Saturn Stevie Wonder 1976
You Are My Starship Norman Connors 1976
Another Star Stevie Wonder 1977
The Martian Boogie Brownsville Station 1977
I Lost My Heart To A Starship Trooper Sarah Brightman and Hot Gossip 1978
I’m Wishing on a Star Rose Royce 1978
Rapper’s Delight Sugarhill Gang 1979

1980-1989

Name Artist Year
Shining Star Manhattans 1980
Ticket to the Moon ELO 1980
There’s A Star For Everyone Aretha Franklin 1981
Countdown Rush 1982
Field of Mars The Church 1982
Shame on the Moon Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band 1982
A Fun Bunch Of Guys From Outer Space Sparks 1983
Major Tom Shiny Toy Guns 1983
Ride, Sally, Ride! Casse Culver 1983
Tranquility Base Planet P Project 1983
Rock – It To Stardom Legendary Stardust Cowboy 1984
Hello Earth Kate Bush 1985
Loving the Alien David Bowie 1985
Space Is the Place Newcleus 1985
The Whole Of The Moon The Waterboys 1985
51-L Sex Clark Five 1986
Flying For Me John Denver 1986
Orion Metallica 1986
Spirit of the Challenger Tommy N. Tucker 1986
Moon Rider Up With People 1987
Outer Space Justin Hayword 1987
Rocket Def Leppard 1987
Sister Moon Sting 1987
Star Trekkin’ The Firm 1987
Surfing with the Alien Joe Satriani 1987
Standing on the Moon The Grateful Dead 1988
The Conquest of Space Howard Blake 1988
Star Erasure 1989

1990-1999

Name Artist Year
Harvest Moon Neil Young 1992
Look For a Star Gary Mills 1992
Out of Space The Prodigy 1992
Space in Your Face Galactic Cowboys 1993
Satellite Dave Matthews 1994
Someone Else’s Star Bryan White 1994
Wandering Star Portishead 1994
Spaceman Babylon Zoo 1995
Everyone’s Gone To The Moon Jonathan King 1997
Marching to Mars Sammy Hagar 1997
Mars Attacks Misfits 1997
To The Moon And Back Savage Garden 1997
Above the Clouds Gang Starr 1998
Beagle 2 Blur 1998
Intergalactic Beastie Boys 1998
Pluto 2 Skinnee J’s 1998
Spaceman Bif Naked 1998
Beyond the Sky Judy Collins 1999
Spacetravel Bush 1999

2000-2009

Name Artist Year
Drops of Jupiter Train 2001
Approaching Pavonis Mons By Balloon (Utopia Planitia) The Flaming Lips 2002
My First Trip To Mars Atticus Fault 2002
Contact Lost Deep Purple 2003
Sail To The Moon Radiohead 2003
Venus Air 2004
Bella Luna Jason Mraz 2005
Stars Switchfoot 2005
Virginia Moon Foo Fighters 2005
Angels on the Moon Thriving Ivory 2006
Galaxy Jason Mraz 2006
Supermassive Black Hole Muse 2006
You Are The Moon The Hush Sound 2006
Pluto Clare & the Reasons 2007
Starlight Muse 2007
Cosmic Love Florence & The Machine 2008
New Moon Rising Wolfmother 2009
Shooting The Moon OK Go 2009
Spaceman The Killers 2009
To The Moon & Back Savage Garden 2009
Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star Jewel 2009
Two Planets Bat for Lashes 2009

2010-present

Name Artist Year
First Kiss on Mars Stone Temple Pilots 2010
Orion These New Puritans 2010
Man On Mars Kaiser Chiefs 2011
Searching for Satellites Wishbone Ash 2011
93 Million Miles Jason Mraz 2012
Circles Around the Sun Dispatch 2012
Starlight Taylor Swift 2012
To the Moon and Back Dolly Parton 2012
We Are All Made of Stars Moby 2012
Bright Echosmith 2013
Crescent Moon KT Tunstall 2013
Look…The Sun Is Rising The Flaming Lips 2013
New Constellation Toad the Wet Sprocket 2013
Old Yellow Moon Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell 2013
Sally Ride Janelle Monáe 2013
Stars Mark Owen 2013
Sun Belinda Carlisle 2013
Sun Sleeping At Last 2013
Venus Lady Gaga 2013
Watch The Sun Come Out Tonight Filter 2013
Yellow Moon Pearl Jam 2013
A Sky Full of Stars Coldplay 2014
American Flag on the Moon Brad Paisley 2014
Blue Moon Beck 2014
Comet, Come to Me Me’Shell Ndegéocello 2014
Let in the Sun Take That 2014
Lost Stars Maroon 5 2014
Sun Goes Down David Guetta 2014
Another Night on Mars The Maine 2015
Black Sun Death Cab for Cutie 2015
Gemini Alabama Shakes 2015
Here To Mars Coheed and Cambria 2015
Higher Place Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike 2015
Meteor Showers Cavetown 2015
Planet A The Devil Wears Prada 2015
Saturn’s Pattern Paul Weller 2015
The Moon Song Karen O 2015
Towards the Sun Rihanna 2015
Been to the Moon Corinne Bailey Rae 2016
Jupiter The Futureheads 2016
Lavendar Two Door Cinema Club 2016
Man On The Moon Britney Spears 2016
Teenage Satelittes Blink-182 2016
The Space Program A Tribe Called Quest 2016
Constellations Oh Hellos 2017
Hundred Million Miles from Home Styx 2017
Stargazing Kygo (featuring Justin Jesso) 2017
The Sky is a Neighborhood Foo Fighters 2017
All the Stars Kendrick Lamar, Sza, & The Weeknd 2018
Black NASA Black Milk 2019
Earth is Ghetto Aliyah Sheffield 2020
Space Biffy Clyro 2020
Spaceship Kesha 2020
Floating Through Space Sia and David Guetta 2021

Soundtracks

Included is a representative list of instrumental movie, TV and game soundtracks from the past few decades that are popular among space fans.

Name Artist Year
The Day The Earth Stood Still Bernard Herrmann 1951
Forbidden Planet Bebe and Louis Barron 1956
2001 Richard Strauss 1968
Solaris Eduard Artemyev 1972
Star Wars (original trilogy) John Williams 1977
Alien Jerry Goldsmith 1979
Blade Runner Vangelis 1980
E.T. John Williams 1982
The Right Stuff (1983 version) Bill Conti 1983
Doom Mick Gordon 1993
Stargate SG-1 David Arnold 1994
Babylon 5 Christopher Franke 1994
Apollo 13 James Horner 1995
Contact Alan Silvestri 1997
Starship Troopers Basil Poledouris 1997
Battlestar Galactica (2004 version) Bear McCreary 2004
Sunshine John Murphy 2007
Mass Effect Jack Wall and Sam Hulick 2007
WALL-E Thomas Newman 2008
Gravity Steven Price 2013
Interstellar Hans Zimmer 2014
The Martian Harry Gregson-Williams 2014
The Expanse Clinton Shorter 2015
Arrival Jóhann Jóhannsson 2016
First Man Justin Hurwitz 2018
Ad Astra Max Richter 2019
Dune Hans Zimmer 2021

Bibliography

“Astronaut’s Playlist: 134 Songs About Stars, Planets, and Space.” Spinditty. (2021, Nov. 5.) https://spinditty.com/playlists/astronomy-stars-planets-NASA-songs-playlist

“10 hip-hop songs to take you on a voyage into space.” A.D. Carson. The Conversation. (2021, May 26). https://theconversation.com/10-hip-hop-songs-to-take-you-on-a-voyage-into-space-157659

“Music of the Stars: The Best Space Movie Soundtracks.” Film School Rejects. (2018, Oct. 18). https://filmschoolrejects.com/best-space-movie-soundtracks/

“Musicspace.” HobbySpace. (2020.) https://www.hobbyspace.com/Music/music5.html