Ground Control to David Bowie: You Really Made the Grade

David Bowie with Stars
Music icon David Bowie passed away on Jan. 11. Astronauts, scientists and members of the spaceflight industry are paying tribute to the artist online. (Image credit: David Bowie official Facebook page)

Among real space explorers, few songs have resonated as powerfully as David Bowie’s iconic “Space Oddity,” the soulful ballad of a solitary fictional astronaut, Major Tom. Bowie, who died on Sunday from cancer, published the song as a single in July 1969 — the year and month of the first Apollo moon landing.

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Bowie has said he was inspired to write the song after watching Stanley Kubrick’s epic film “2001: A Space Odyssey,” which came out a year earlier.

The song opens with Major Tom launching into space. Ground Control tells him “Take your protein pills and put your helmet on … Commencing countdown, engines on … Check ignition and may God’s love be with you.”

Once in space, the accolades pour in.

“You’ve really made the grade,” Ground Control tells Major Tom. “The papers want to know whose shirts you wear.”

MORE: Farewell, Major Tom: Remembering David Bowie

Then it’s time for work — a spacewalk — and Major Tom picks up the storyline:

“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.”

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield was so inspired by Bowie’s song that he made a music video of “Space Oddity” while he was aboard the International Space Station in 2013, catapulting the song back into the public eye.

“Ashes to ashes, dust to stardust. Your brilliance inspired us all. Goodbye Starman,” Hadfield posted on Twitter on Monday.

ANALYSIS: Space Oddity: Astronaut Ends Mission With Music Video

NASA added, “And the stars look very different today. RIP David Bowie.”

Here’s a link to Bowie’s first television performance of “Space Oddity,” circa 1970. Love the pink bell-bottoms:

Chris Hadfield’s rendition of “Space Oddity”:

Originally published on Discovery News.

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Irene Klotz
Contributing Writer

Irene Klotz is a founding member and long-time contributor to She concurrently spent 25 years as a wire service reporter and freelance writer, specializing in space exploration, planetary science, astronomy and the search for life beyond Earth. A graduate of Northwestern University, Irene currently serves as Space Editor for Aviation Week & Space Technology.