Saturday, October 4, 2008

"Space Oddity" - David Bowie, 1969 (folk rock)

Ground Control to Major Tom
Ground Control to Major Tom
Take your protein pills and put your helmet on

Ground Control to Major Tom
Commencing countdown, engines on
Check ignition and may God's love be with you

Ten, Nine, Eight, Seven, Six, Five, Four, Three, Two, One, Liftoff

This is Ground Control to Major Tom
You've really made the grade
And the papers want to know whose shirts you wear
Now it's time to leave the capsule if you dare

"This is Major Tom to Ground Control
I'm stepping through the door
And I'm floating in a most peculiar way
And the stars look very different today

For here
Am I sitting in a tin can
Far above the world
Planet Earth is blue
And there's nothing I can do

Though I'm past one hundred thousand miles
I'm feeling very still
And I think my spaceship knows which way to go
Tell my wife I love her very much she knows"

Ground Control to Major Tom
Your circuit's dead, there's something wrong
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Can you....

"Here am I floating round my tin can
Far above the Moon
Planet Earth is blue
And there's nothing I can do."

The song's main character, Major Tom, is a fictional astronaut and the story the song tells is that he gets lost in space. The song was inspired by Stanley Kubrick's film 2001: A Space Odyssey. Bowie planned the writing and release of Space Oddity to coincide with the BBC's media coverage of the launch of the US's Apollo 11 moon landing mission. See...not everything is about war and politics.

Apollo 11 was the first manned mission to land on the moon, launched on July 16, 1969. It was this flight that made history forever and reached Pres. John F. Kennedy's goal when he said, "I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth." On July 20, Edwin Eugene "Buzz" Aldrin and Neil Alden Armstrong walked on the moon's surface while lunar command module captain, Michael Collins, orbited above.

It was this lunar landing where Neil Armstrong uttered the very famous words, "Houston, Tranquility Base, here. The Eagle has landed." However, unbeknownst to most people, when Armstrong spoke those words, he through Mission Control into somewhat of a tizzy...because nobody at Mission Control had no idea what he was talking about at first.

The call sign Armstrong was supposed to use was Eagle, which was the name of the lunar module (LEM) that actually landed on the moon's surface - the vehicle that carried the two astronauts. It was given the name Eagle because of the bald eagle insignia that it carried. There were actually a few other call signs that NASA toyed with during the planning. Thankfully, the call signs Snowcone and Haystack were quickly changed before being announced to the press.

Tranquility Base, the name Armstrong gave to the Eagle's landing site, was a spot in the southwestern corner of the lunar plain called The Sea of Tranquility, near the craters Sabine and Ritter. The Sea of Tranquility is the name of one a lunar mare (latin for 'sea'). They were called 'seas' by the early astronomers who mistoook them for actual water seas. However, they are not water seas but basaltic plains formed by ancient volcanic eruptions.

During space travel, call signs are given to people and vehicles...never landmarks. However, unlike most names bestowed upon lunar landmarks, in the light of the Apollo 11 mission's huge history-setting success, the designation Tranquility Base was soon officially recognized by NASA and the International Astronomical Union. Because of those famous Armstrong words, Tranquility Base now appears on lunar maps as Statio Tranquillitatis.

And while Neil Armstrong went down in history for his famous, albeit erroneous quote, somehow Houston's response got lost in the shuffle:

Capcom Charles Duke: "Roger, Twan... [correcting himself] Tranquility. We copy you on the ground. You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We're breathing again. Thanks a lot."

Hey, give the guy a break. He was probably excited. And he had every reason to be because his space flight didn't turn out like Major Tom's. Nope...they saved that for the sequel - Apollo 13.

"Space Oddity" - David Bowie, 1969 (original video and recording)

(gathered from various sources in space...cyberspace, that is)

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