NASA Releases Strange ‘Music’ Heard By 1969 Astronauts

Lunar module pilot Eugene Cernan en route to the Moon during the Apollo 10 mission in the spring of 1969. Credit: NASA
Lunar module pilot Gene Cernan en route to the Moon during the Apollo 10 mission in the spring of 1969. Credit: NASA

Calling it music is a stretch, but that’s exactly how the Apollo 10 astronauts described the creepy sounds they heard while swinging around the farside of the moon in May 1969. During the hour they spent alone cut off from communications with Earth, all three commented about a persistent “whistling” sound that lunar module pilot (LMP) likened to “outer-space-type-music”. Once the craft returned to the nearside, the mysterious sounds disappeared.


Apollo 10 Farside-of-the-Moon Music.

Hands down it was aliens! I wish. Several online stories fan the coals of innuendo and mystery with talk of hidden files and NASA cover-ups narrated to disturbing music. NASA agrees that the files were listed as ‘confidential’ in 1969 at the height of the Space Race, but the Apollo 10 mission transcripts and audio have been publicly available at the National Archives since 1973. Remember, there was no Internet back then. The audio files were only digitized and uploaded for easy access in 2012. Outside of the secretive ’60s, the files have been around a long time.

Part of the Apollo 10 transcript of the conversation among the three Apollo 10 astronauts while they orbited the farside of the Moon. Credit: NASA
Part of the Apollo 10 transcript of the conversation among the three Apollo 10 astronauts while they orbited the farside of the Moon. Click the image for a pdf copy of the full mission transcript. Credit: NASA

The story originally broke Sunday night in a show on the cable channel Discovery as part of the “NASA’s Unexplained Files” series; you’ll find their youtube video below. As I listen to the sound file, I hear two different tones. One is a loud, low buzz, the other a whooshing sound. My first thought was interference of some sort for the buzzing sound, but the whoosh reminded me of a whistler, a low frequency radio wave generated by lightning produced when energy from lightning travels out into Earth’s magnetic field from one hemisphere to another. Using an appropriate receiver, we can hear whistlers as descending, whistle-like tones lasting up to several seconds.

Earthrise as photographed by the Apollo 10 crew in May 1969. Credit: NASA
Earthrise as photographed by the Apollo 10 crew in May 1969. Credit: NASA

Lightning’s hardly likely on the Moon, and whistlers require a magnetic field, which the Moon also lacks. The cause turns out to be, well, man-made. Cernan’s take was that two separate VHF radios, one in the lunar module and the other in command module, were interfering with one another to produce the noise. This was later confirmed by Apollo 11 astronaut Mike Collins who flew around the lunar farside alone when Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong walked on the Moon’s surface.

The Apollo 10 command/service module nicknamed "Charlie Brown" orbiting the Moon as seen from the lunar module. Credit: NASA
The Apollo 10 command service module nicknamed “Charlie Brown” orbiting the Moon as seen from the lunar module. Apollo 10 was a full dress rehearsal for the Apollo 11 mission to place a man on the Moon. Click the image to visit the Apollo 10 photo archive. Credit: NASA

In his book Carrying the Fire, Collins writes: “There is a strange noise in my headset now, an eerie woo-woo sound.” He said it might have scared him had NASA’s radio technicians not forewarned him. The “music” played when the two craft were near one another with their radios turned on. Unlike Apollo 10, which never descended to the Moon’s surface but remained near the command module, the Apollo 11 lunar module touched down on the Moon on July 20, 1969. Once it did, Collins writes that the ‘woo-woo’ music stopped.

The astronauts never talked publicly or even with the agency about hearing weird sounds in space for good reason. Higher-ups at NASA might think them unfit for future missions for entertaining weird ideas, so they kept their thoughts private. This was the era of the “right stuff” and no astronaut wanted to jeopardize a chance to fly to the Moon let alone their career.


Outer Space Music Part 1 of NASA’s Unexplained Files —  to be taken with a boulder of salt

In the end, this “music of the the spheres” makes for a fascinating  tidbit of outer space history. There’s no question the astronauts were spooked, especially considering how eerie it must have felt to be out of touch with Earth on the far side of the Moon. But once the sounds stopped, they soldiered on — part of the grand human effort to touch another world.

“I don’t remember that incident exciting me enough to take it seriously,” Gene Cernan told NASA on Monday. “It was probably just radio interference. Had we thought it was something other than that we would have briefed everyone after the flight. We never gave it another thought.”


Messages from the Ringed Planet

Want to hear some real outer space music? Click the Saturn video and listen to the eerie sound of electrons streaming along Saturn’s magnetic field to create the aurora.

The Eerie Music of Interstellar Space

While it’s true that there’s no air to carry sound in space, starship explosions would be strangely silent and no one can hear you scream, this latest Science @ NASA video reminds us that “space can make music, if you know how to listen.”

And the “how” in this case is with the Plasma Wave Science Experiment aboard the Voyager 1 spacecraft, which is now playing the sounds of interstellar space — with a little help from University of Iowa physics professor and experiment principal investigator Don Gurnett. Watch the video above for a front-row seat (and read more about Voyager’s historic crossing of the heliosphere here.)

Space Jam: Astronaut Sings Duet From the Space Station

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield participated in an annual event for Canadian music students from a unique location: a long-distance perch in the Cupola of the International Space Station. Before launching to the ISS in December, Hadfield wrote a song with Ed Robertson of the band Barenaked Ladies, and Friday morning the song premiered as Hadfield, Robertson and a school glee club sang together: Hadfield performed his part on the space station; Robertson did his in Toronto with the Wexford Gleeks. The song was part of Music Monday in Canada, and while today’s premiere was pre-recorded, in May, students across Canada will play the song live with Hadfield in space.

The song is called “I.S.S. (Is Somebody Singing),” it begins with the words:

Eighteen-thousand miles an hour
Fueled by science and solar power
The oceans racing past
At half a thousand tons
Ninety minutes moon to sun
A bullet can’t go half this fast.

Music aficionados can find the sheet music here and here.

Hadfield plays the guitar and sings with a couple of bands on Earth. Before he began his Expedition on the ISS, he told Universe Today he would be doing as much singing as he could in space.

“Music is really important to me, ever since I’ve been a kid. I’ve always played guitar and sang,” he said, “and I’m really hoping to have the chance to sit weightless with the guitar on board and play music, and also record some of the music I’ve written.”

He also is working to finish some songs he started writing on Earth while living on the ISS, which he called “a particularly inspirational environment” and maybe write some news ones.

“We have all the recording equipment we need on board,” he said. “It is basic but it is good enough to be able to record and I’m hoping to record at least one full CD’s worth of original music up there. It’s neat – I’m writing with my brother who is a musician, and he pointed out that a lot of the traditional folk songs came from people who were the first on the frontier — the early explorers, sailors, miners, and the fishermen — the people who are involved in the day-to-day of a specific human experience. To think I might be involved in helping to write some of the first space faring music, music that people might play and sing as they leave Earth for Mars, it is an interesting time in history.”

This isn’t the first Earth-Space musical collaboration: in 2011 astronaut Cady Coleman did a flute duet with Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson.

Sounds of the Space Station

CSA astronaut Chris Hadfield strums some chords in the cupola (NASA)

You’ve probably seen plenty of photos of astronauts and cosmonauts working aboard the International Space Station, and maybe even some videos of ISS briefings and interviews and tours throughout the different modules (and perhaps even an astronaut-produced song or two.) But have you ever wondered what the average, everyday sounds inside Station are like?

If so, Canadian astronaut and Expedition 34 flight engineer Chris Hadfield has an earful for you.

To share his ISS experience past mere pixels, Hadfield has posted some recordings on Soundcloud taken from various locations around Station, giving an idea of the many ambient noises found inside humanity’s orbiting “place in space.” (But if you think it sounds anything like the bridge of the U.S.S. Enterprise, you may be in for a surprise.)

iss034e010603Here’s just a few of the recordings Hadfield has posted (you’ll have to click each to play in Soundcloud):

Ambient Noise of the Space Station

Station Noises and Sounds

Russian Segment Handrails

Soyuz Orbital Module

And here’s one that really doesn’t sound like anything on Earth: Toilet Starting on Station

So even though life on the ISS might not sound like what you’d first imagine in a spaceship or have a dramatic score to accompany its soaring adventures around the world, it certainly has a unique sound all its own (and sometimes the astronauts do get to add their own original soundtrack too.)

Space Folk

Chris may have founded a new music genre: “Space Folk”

Listen to more sounds of the Station on Chris Hadfield’s Soundcloud page here.

Inset image: Chris Hadfield poses with a Materials Science Laboratory Furnace Launch Support Structure (FLSS) in the Destiny laboratory of the International Space Station. NASA astronaut Tom Marshburn, flight engineer, uses a computer in the background.

The Face of Creation

The latest autotuned installment in John D. Boswell’s Symphony of Science series waxes melodic about the particle-smashing science being done with the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, in particular its search for the Higgs boson, a.k.a. the… ok, ok, I won’t say it…

“We can recreate the conditions that were present just after the beginning of the Universe.”
– Prof. Brian Cox, “The Face of Creation”


John has been entertaining science fans with his Symphony mixes since 2009, when his first video in the series — “A Glorious Dawn” featuring Carl Sagan — was released. Now John’s videos are eagerly anticipated by fans, who follow him on YouTube and on Twitter as @melodysheep.

I’d have to say my all-time favorite is “Onward to the Edge”, featuring astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, Professor Brian Cox and Carolyn Porco from the Cassini imaging team.

Terra LuminaThanks to some help from Kickstarter, John has recently released an original album, Terra Lumina, a “collection of folk/rock songs with themes including gravity, geology, photons, and the Doppler effect.” It’s a unique musical take on some of science’s most amazing discoveries, from John D. Boswell and vocalist William Crowley. Check out the video trailer here.

The album can be found on Amazon and on iTunes.

Videos via melodysheep

Brazilian Band Soars to New Heights with a NASA-Inspired Video


Popular Brazilian rock band Fresno recently released a new video for their new song, “Infinito”, and it really rises above the rest — literally!

It’s a story of four guys who take their childhood dream of launching a package up into space and, after years apart, come back together to make it a reality. Along the way we get to see some great views from a camera that the band members actually sent up to the edge of space via weather balloon — an accomplishment that came with its fair share of challenges.

Fresno lead member Lucas Silveira shared some behind-the-scenes info with Universe Today. “We wasted two cameras. One of them landed on a military base — exactly in the middle of a mine field — and the other simply disappeared… completely lost due to the lack of cellular signal on the landing spot.”

And even on a successful third try there were some technical difficulties.

“In our third attempt we used a different balloon, with more capacity, and it managed to fly for over 3.5 hours… but our camera only survived for around 2.5 hours. So we had to send a smaller balloon just to capture the ‘popping up’ moment, and added it to the ‘main balloon ride’ on post production.”

Still, the results — a dizzying view of Earth from 35 km up — are well worth it, and the story is an inspiring one… inspired, in fact, by NASA.

“I wrote this song after watching a video by NASA in which they zoom out from the Himalayas to the edge of the universe, showing the areas that still yet to be mapped. We are so infinitely small in the middle of all this greatness, and suddenly our problems get as tiny in our heads as our lucky existence here. It’s about searching for better days, creating a better future through proactivity and not letting others letting you down.”

When you soar that high it’s hard to feel let down.

Video courtesy of Fresno. Technical and launch assistance provided by ACRUX Aerospace Technologies. Band photo by Gustavo Vara.

The Workings of our Solar System Creates Beautiful Musical Palindrome

If you like math, music and space (separately or in any combination) you’re gonna love this. Musician Daniel Starr-Tambor has created a song by assigning each planet a note and speeding up the orbital periods of the planets where 2 seconds represents one Earth year, with a note playing for each orbit. But this isn’t just any typical song; it ends up being a musical palindrome, which means it can be played the same both forwards and backwards … that is, if you lived long enough to play to the end of the song. At the accelerated speeds of the Solar System, Starr-Tambor estimates it would continue without repetition for over 532.25 septendecillion years (5.3225 X 10 56). And with more than 62 vigintillion (6.2 X 10 64) individual notes, this composition, called “Mandala,” is the longest musical palindrome in existence.

Back in the 17th century composers like J.S. Bach created musical palindromes (mostly to show off!) and Starr-Tambor pays homage to Bach by choosing the precise position of the Solar System at the moment of Bach’s birth, viewed from the perspective of the Sun as it faces the constellation Libra, “so that each note chronicles his birthday on every planet.”

That’s just cool.
Continue reading “The Workings of our Solar System Creates Beautiful Musical Palindrome”

Third Rock – NASA’s Cool New Internet Radio Station

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If you love space and love internet radio, as I do, then this is for you. NASA’s new internet music radio station, Third Rock, was just launched yesterday. With a New Rock/Indie/Alternative music format aimed toward younger, techie listeners, it will feature custom-produced content; a collaboration between NASA and RFC Media in Houston, Texas, it will be operated through a Space Act Agreement, at no cost to the government. As NASA explores space, Third Rock also explores new music, bringing the two together in a fun and unique way.

According to David Weaver, associate administrator for the Office of Communications at NASA Headquarters in Washington, “NASA constantly is looking for new and innovative ways to engage the public and inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers. We have led the way in innovative uses of new media and this is another example of how the agency is taking advantage of these important communication tools.”

Pat Fant, RFC Media co-founder and chief operating officer, adds: “Today’s 4G audience craves new music and enjoys finding it. We’ve pulled out the best songs and the deepest tracks from a full spectrum of rock artists across many styles and decades. NASA features and news items are embedded throughout the programming alongside greetings by celebrity artists.”

You can check out and listen to Third Rock here, and it should be available as an iPhone and Android app soon as well. Happy listening!