The first man to ever leave the Earth and venture into space was a Russian cosmonaut named Yuri Gagarin, who, if he hadn't died at the young age of 34 in a plane crash he would be 77 years old today. Garagrin was launched into space on April 12, 1961, and orbited once around the planet in 108 minutes before re-entering the Earth's atmosphere and landing safely.
Since then, man has made great strides in space exploration, visiting the moon, building the International Space Station, establishing a satellite network, and sending unmanned probes to the furthest reaches of the solar system. However, the last planned shuttle launch for the foreseeable future took place in February, returning to Earth this week and leaving the question of when we'll next see Americans launched into space in limbo.
Musical history is full of spacemen. Some serve as an analogy to loneliness and isolation, some as metaphors for the working man of the future, and some just because space kicks ass. In hopes of inspiring the people who hold the purse strings to consider shooting some more people at the moon and points beyond, we'd like to throw some of the finest space names from popular songs into the helmet.
Appears In: "Space Oddity," David Bowie
Any discussion of musical spacemen must begin with David Bowie's legendary lost hero Major Tom from the song "Space Oddity." First debuting on the album of the same name in 1969, the character is lost at space after a malfunction disables his spacecraft, but sends a final message of love to his wife left back on Earth before all contact is lost.
The character has gone on to appear several more times in Bowie's work as well as being mentioned in songs by other artists. Though Bowie has made mention of the character being an autobiographical reference to drug use, most notably in his 1980 song "Ashes to Ashes," Major Tom is considered a literal astronaut by the rest of pop culture.
Peter Schilling cemented the image in 1983 with his unofficial remake of "Space Oddity" "Major Tom (Coming Home)." As the rock's senior astronaut, we recommend Major Tom for team commander of the mission.
Appears In: Christmas on Mars, The Flaming Lips
When The Flaming Lips released their movie Christmas on Mars in 2005, it was heralded by most critics as an original and masterful film utilizing all the musical and performance leitmotifs that made the Lips one of the most influential indie bands ever.
Personally, Rocks Off heralded it as a ripoff of another entry on this list, but we are still happy to admit that the Christmas on Mars is a great flick. The hero of the epic is Major Syrtis, who is desperately trying to put on a Christmas pageant on a recently colonized Mars while a lone woman prepares to give birth to a baby.
Amidst all the vagina imagery and bleak depression is a man's quest to try and give the perfect setting to the beginning of a new age symbolized by extremely disturbing looking pre-natal technology.
Loyal and idealistic, Major Syrtis is the perfect second in command for the mission.
THE ROCKET MAN
Appears In: "Rocket Man," Elton John
Coming just three years after the release of "Space Oddity" was Elton John's "Rocket Man," semi-based on the Ray Bradbury short story. John's longtime writing partner Bernie Taupin was also inspired by a distant shooting star to pen lyrics showing the new and exciting occupation of astronaut as a mundane drudgery just to pay the bills.
A connection between the Rocket Man and Major Tom has been alluded to by Bowie himself, who occasionally calls out "Oh, Rocket Man" when performing "Space Oddity." For the purposes of this article, though, we're counting Rocket Man as a separate character.
There have been great renditions of the song over the years, including Kate Bush, but nothing compares to the 1978 interpretation by William Shatner. After all, if anyone knows what it means to be a day to day spaceman it's Captain Kirk himself.
As a representative of blue-collar space travel, the Rocket Man will be our main technical expert on the mission.
Appears In: The American Astronaut, Billy Nayer Show
Remember when we were talking about Christmas on Mars on the first page? Well, the movie that came out coincidentally the same year that Christmas on Mars began development was a black and white space musical by the criminally underrated indie band Billy Nayer Show called The American Astronaut.
In this film our hero is Samuel Curtis, a smuggler looking to get rich by delivering a new king to the all-female population of Venus. Unlike Christmas on Mars, American Astronaut is more in line with a true musical, featuring full on dance numbers and incredible songs.
The whole reason Rocks Off ever got Netflix was simply to rent this film, a point that became moot when band leader Cory McAbee personally gifted us with a copy after we expressed our admiration for it a one of the band's few Houston shows.
As a regular adventurer between the planets and the asteroid belt, Samuel Curtis should be the navigator for the mission.
'N Sync criminally underrated 2001 film On the Line
Lance Bass from 'N Sync always wanted to go into space, and his obsession with space travel was heavily parodied in the musical Boy Groove. Eventually, the character based on Bass was kidnapped by Oingo Boingo from the planet Duran Duran and gets to fulfill his wish in exchange for a little anal probing.
In real life, Bass almost made it as a Russian cosmonaut. Originally tapped to host a reality show where the winner would be a member of the Soyuz-TMA-1 mission in 2002, the show was scrapped in favor of a documentary about a celebrity training to be a cosmonaut. Bass was selected because of his high enthusiasm for the project, and even underwent corrective heart surgery to cure a condition that would have disqualified him.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the mission of the Houston Press. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Houston’s stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
Eventually, the funding for the documentary fell apart, and even though Bass initially secured additional sponsorship from MTV and other sources, most backed out due to concerns about their image should an accident occur. Since then, Bass has continued to be an advocate for space programs, and has maintained the training necessary as well as his fluency in Russian in hopes of eventually making it into orbit.
With Bass already trained and an international spokesman for space travel, he will make the perfect mascot and public face of the mission.