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The astronaut's playlist: Groovy songs for space travelers

Some album covers with space themes
Some album covers with space themes. (Image credit: Columbia, Factory, MCA, RCA, Virgin, Warner Bros.)

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 (opens in new tab), or this playlist (opens in new tab) 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 (opens in new tab).

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

NameArtistYear
When You Wish Upon A StarCliff Edwards1940
Swinging On A StarBing Crosby1945
Sputnik (Satellite Girl)Jerry Engler and the Four Ekkos1957
The Sputnik StoryBill Thomas 1957
Shake It Over SputnikBill Hogan1958
Blue Moon of KentuckyElvis Presley1959
Blue MoonThe Marcels1961
Happy Blues For John GlennSam "Lightning" Hopkins1962
TelstarTornados1962
The Ballad of John GlennRoy West1962
I'll Follow the SunThe Beatles1964
Full Moon and Empty ArmsFrank Sinatra1965
'Star Trek': The Original Series ThemeAlexander Courage1966
Spaceman's SaluteHank Elder1966
Across the UniverseThe Beatles1968
Aquarius (Let the Sun Shine In)The 5th Dimension1969
Armstrong, Aldrin and CollinsThe Byrds1969
Good Morning StarshineOliver1969
Here Comes the SunGeorge Harrison1969
The Walk of Ed WhiteUp With People1969

1970-1979

NameArtistYear
MoondanceVan Morrison1970
Planet CaravanBlack Sabbath1970
Balloons of MarsT. Rex1972
Dancing in the MoonlightKing Harvest1972
Pink MoonNick Drake1972
StarmanDavid Bowie1972
Supersonic Rocket ShipThe Kinks1972
EclipsePink Floyd1973
Moon RockDory Previn1973
Solar FireManfred Mann's Earth Band1973
39Queen1975
Shining StarEarth, Wind & Fire1975
Sirens Of TitanAl Stewart1975
Calling Occupants Of Interplanetary CraftThe Carpenters1976
Outer Space/Inner SpaceJim Irwin and the Johnny Mann Singers1976
SaturnStevie Wonder1976
You Are My StarshipNorman Connors1976
Another StarStevie Wonder1977
The Martian BoogieBrownsville Station1977
I Lost My Heart To A Starship TrooperSarah Brightman and Hot Gossip1978
I'm Wishing on a StarRose Royce1978
Rapper's DelightSugarhill Gang1979

1980-1989

NameArtistYear
Shining StarManhattans1980
Ticket to the MoonELO1980
There's A Star For EveryoneAretha Franklin1981
CountdownRush1982
Field of MarsThe Church1982
Shame on the MoonBob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band1982
A Fun Bunch Of Guys From Outer SpaceSparks1983
Major TomShiny Toy Guns1983
Ride, Sally, Ride!Casse Culver1983
Tranquility BasePlanet P Project1983
Rock - It To StardomLegendary Stardust Cowboy 1984
Hello EarthKate Bush1985
Loving the Alien David Bowie1985
Space Is the PlaceNewcleus1985
The Whole Of The MoonThe Waterboys1985
51-LSex Clark Five1986
Flying For MeJohn Denver1986
OrionMetallica1986
Spirit of the ChallengerTommy N. Tucker1986
Moon RiderUp With People1987
Outer SpaceJustin Hayword1987
RocketDef Leppard1987
Sister MoonSting1987
Star Trekkin'The Firm1987
Surfing with the Alien Joe Satriani1987
Standing on the MoonThe Grateful Dead1988
The Conquest of SpaceHoward Blake1988
StarErasure1989

1990-1999

NameArtistYear
Harvest MoonNeil Young1992
Look For a StarGary Mills1992
Out of SpaceThe Prodigy1992
Space in Your FaceGalactic Cowboys1993
SatelliteDave Matthews1994
Someone Else's StarBryan White1994
Wandering StarPortishead1994
SpacemanBabylon Zoo1995
Everyone's Gone To The MoonJonathan King1997
Marching to MarsSammy Hagar1997
Mars AttacksMisfits1997
To The Moon And BackSavage Garden1997
Above the CloudsGang Starr1998
Beagle 2Blur 1998
IntergalacticBeastie Boys1998
Pluto2 Skinnee J's1998
SpacemanBif Naked1998
Beyond the SkyJudy Collins1999
SpacetravelBush1999

2000-2009

NameArtistYear
Drops of JupiterTrain2001
Approaching Pavonis Mons By Balloon (Utopia Planitia)The Flaming Lips2002
My First Trip To Mars Atticus Fault2002
Contact LostDeep Purple2003
Sail To The MoonRadiohead2003
VenusAir2004
Bella LunaJason Mraz2005
StarsSwitchfoot2005
Virginia MoonFoo Fighters2005
Angels on the MoonThriving Ivory2006
GalaxyJason Mraz2006
Supermassive Black HoleMuse2006
You Are The MoonThe Hush Sound2006
PlutoClare & the Reasons2007
StarlightMuse2007
Cosmic LoveFlorence & The Machine2008
New Moon RisingWolfmother2009
Shooting The MoonOK Go2009
SpacemanThe Killers2009
To The Moon & BackSavage Garden2009
Twinkle, Twinkle Little StarJewel2009
Two PlanetsBat for Lashes2009

2010-present

NameArtistYear
First Kiss on MarsStone Temple Pilots2010
OrionThese New Puritans2010
Man On MarsKaiser Chiefs2011
Searching for SatellitesWishbone Ash2011
93 Million MilesJason Mraz2012
Circles Around the SunDispatch2012
StarlightTaylor Swift2012
To the Moon and BackDolly Parton2012
We Are All Made of StarsMoby2012
BrightEchosmith2013
Crescent MoonKT Tunstall2013
Look...The Sun Is RisingThe Flaming Lips2013
New ConstellationToad the Wet Sprocket2013
Old Yellow MoonEmmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell2013
Sally RideJanelle Monáe2013
StarsMark Owen2013
SunBelinda Carlisle2013
SunSleeping At Last2013
VenusLady Gaga2013
Watch The Sun Come Out TonightFilter2013
Yellow MoonPearl Jam2013
A Sky Full of StarsColdplay2014
American Flag on the MoonBrad Paisley2014
Blue MoonBeck2014
Comet, Come to MeMe'Shell Ndegéocello2014
Let in the SunTake That2014
Lost StarsMaroon 52014
Sun Goes DownDavid Guetta2014
Another Night on MarsThe Maine2015
Black SunDeath Cab for Cutie2015
GeminiAlabama Shakes2015
Here To MarsCoheed and Cambria2015
Higher PlaceDimitri Vegas & Like Mike2015
Meteor ShowersCavetown2015
Planet AThe Devil Wears Prada2015
Saturn's PatternPaul Weller2015
The Moon SongKaren O2015
Towards the SunRihanna2015
Been to the MoonCorinne Bailey Rae2016
JupiterThe Futureheads2016
LavendarTwo Door Cinema Club2016
Man On The MoonBritney Spears2016
Teenage SatelittesBlink-1822016
The Space ProgramA Tribe Called Quest2016
ConstellationsOh Hellos2017
Hundred Million Miles from HomeStyx2017
StargazingKygo (featuring Justin Jesso)2017
The Sky is a NeighborhoodFoo Fighters2017
All the StarsKendrick Lamar, Sza, & The Weeknd2018
Black NASABlack Milk2019
Earth is GhettoAliyah Sheffield2020
SpaceBiffy Clyro2020
SpaceshipKesha2020
Floating Through SpaceSia and David Guetta2021

Soundtracks

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

NameArtistYear
The Day The Earth Stood StillBernard Herrmann1951
Forbidden PlanetBebe and Louis Barron1956
2001Richard Strauss1968
SolarisEduard Artemyev1972
Star Wars (original trilogy)John Williams1977
AlienJerry Goldsmith1979
Blade RunnerVangelis1980
E.T.John Williams1982
The Right Stuff (1983 version)Bill Conti1983
DoomMick Gordon1993
Stargate SG-1 David Arnold1994
Babylon 5Christopher Franke1994
Apollo 13James Horner 1995
ContactAlan Silvestri1997
Starship TroopersBasil Poledouris1997
Battlestar Galactica (2004 version)Bear McCreary2004
SunshineJohn Murphy2007
Mass EffectJack Wall and Sam Hulick2007
WALL-EThomas Newman2008
GravitySteven Price2013
InterstellarHans Zimmer2014
The MartianHarry Gregson-Williams2014
The ExpanseClinton Shorter2015
ArrivalJóhann Jóhannsson2016
First ManJustin Hurwitz2018
Ad AstraMax Richter2019
DuneHans Zimmer2021

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 (opens in new tab)

"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 (opens in new tab)

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

"Musicspace." HobbySpace. (2020.) https://www.hobbyspace.com/Music/music5.html (opens in new tab)

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Tom Chao has contributed to SPACE.com as a producer and writer since 2000. As a writer and editor, he has worked for the Voyager Company, Time Inc. New Media, HarperCollins and Worth Publishers. He has a bachelor’s degree in Cinema Production from the University of Southern California, and a master’s degree from NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Tom on Google+.
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