The most popular space songs: looking at astronauts’ playlists

14th Jun 2023
The most popular space songs: looking at astronauts’ playlists

Space. Mysterious and majestic. Look at the night sky, studded with millions of stars. It’s mesmerizing and inspiring. Many movies are made, novels are written, and songs about Space are composed. If you haven’t checked out our TOP 10 space movies yet, be sure to do that. And now, let’s talk about the most popular Space-themed songs and songs ever played in Space. Are you interested? Then let’s get started.

TOP 10 space-themed songs

Just as Space itself is limitless, so is the inspiration of the musicians and poets who created their masterpieces about it. You can see for yourself by listening to these incredible songs.

1.    Fly Me to the Moon. Frank Sinatra

Frank Sinatra singing in the studio
Frank Sinatra on “Fly Me to the Moon” recording. Image credit: Spotify

The song was written in 1954 by Bart Howard, a jazz musician and Frank Sinatra’s friend. Initially, it was called “In other words,” but the people quickly dubbed it “Fly Me to the Moon”, and the name was later officially changed.

The song is performed on behalf of a person deeply in love. The title is a metaphor for how he treats his beloved. Further, the singer mentions other celestial bodies to describe the full extent of his feelings.

The work has been performed by many singers, but Sinatra’s version, recorded in 1964, two years after President Kennedy announced the goals of the Apollo lunar program, turned out to be the most successful and, most importantly, timely. In 1969, Sinatra’s recording was immortalized when Buzz Aldrin played it on his cassette player after setting foot on the moon shortly after Armstrong.

The plot, in which the love line and Space are intertwined, and the magical voice of Frank Sinatra still make “Fly Me to the Moon” one of the most popular love songs about the stars and Space.

2.    Space oddity. David Bowie

David Bowie
Space oddity of David Bowie. Image Credit:

Space Oddity is a story about a fictional astronaut named Major Tom who gets lost in space. Bowie said he wrote the song while inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s sci-fi film A Space Odyssey 2001.

“In England, it has always been assumed that it was written about landing in Space because it became known around the same time. But actually, it is not. It was written because I saw the film 2001 which stunned me. I was literally out of my mind, went to watch it high several times, and it was a real revelation for me. And the song literally poured out of me,” – Bowie admitted. The single was released just a few days before the Apollo 11 moon landing. When the BBC made a radio broadcast about the event, the station decided to use Space Oddity in the background. This helped the track climb to number five in the UK charts and made it one of the most popular 70s songs about Space.

Bowie later recalled: “British television picked it up and used it as background music for the landing itself. I’m sure they didn’t listen to the lyrics at all. But there was nothing pleasant about opposing the moon landings. Of course, I was overjoyed that they did it. Apparently, someone in the BBC management said: “Oh come on, this song is about Space, Major Tom, blah blah blah, it’ll do just fine.” “Hmm, but he got lost in space, sir,” no one had the guts to tell the producer”.

3.    Starman. David Bowie

young David Bowie on stage
David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust. Worcester Gaumont Theatre, UK, June 4th, 1973.
Copyright: © Mick Rock

Another of David Bowie’s space songs became a major hit. The song was included in the musician’s fifth album, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, which tells about Ziggy Stardust — a famous character by David Bowie which fascinated the whole world. Ziggy is a young man who listens to rock-and-roll on the radio in the evening, admires this music and says: there is a Starman waiting in the sky who’d like to come and meet us. Starman is the first message of hope that Ziggy brings to the people after the catastrophe from a collision with infinity has befallen the world.

In February 1999, Q magazine ranked Starman as one of the 100 greatest singles of all time, according to the readers.

4.    Rocket man. Elton John

Rocket Man - Elton John
‘Rocket Man’ is widely considered to be Elton John’s signature song. Picture: Getty

Rocket Man is one of the classic songs about space exploration, inspired by Ray Bradbury’s 1951 short story of the same name, although many still consider it plagiarised from Space Oddity. Sir Elton’s explosive vocals and Bernie Taupin’s witty lyrics depict the image of a brave astronaut overcoming a long journey full of dangers and difficulties, from the countdown before the rocket launch to Mars itself. But, he’ll be high as a kite, by then.

In addition to the pronounced cosmic context, the song clearly traces an analogy to the career of the rock musician who is ‘all alone… and high as a kite” (space is compared to a scene where the musicians are cut off from reality, just like the astronauts from the Earth).

Rocket Man is rightly considered one of the best rock songs about space. It peaked at number 2 on the UK Singles Chart and number 6 on the US Billboard Hot 100, launching Elton John’s cosmic career.

5.    Final Countdown. Europe

Europe band
Illustration for Final Countdown release by Europe. Credit:

The famous hit was written in 1981 by Joey Tempest and inspired by Space Oddity. The text tells of a group of people leaving the crumbling Earth behind and heading in a rocket ship towards Venus. The narrator wonders what awaits them on this journey. The final countdown, of course, refers to the last moments before the start.

6. Spaceman. The Killers

A collage to the song Spaceman
A collage to the song Spaceman. The Killers. Credit:

This song, recorded by The Killers in 2008, is notable for telling a story about alien abduction. The guy is dragged out of bed and abducted by extraterrestrial beings, who then try to convince him that everything he feels is just a figment of his own imagination. The song became a radio hit and was also used in the animated film Planet 51 trailer.

The band’s vocalist Brandon Flowers admitted that the song was inspired by Space Oddity and Rocket Man.

7.    Mr. Spaceman. The Byrds

Mr Spacemen album cover, The Byrds
Mr Spacemen album cover

Unlike Spaceman by The Killers, Mr. Spaceman by The Byrds is a kind character. The protagonist of the song asks if he can go along with the mysterious aliens that enter his house at night. The aliens are even nice enough to leave him a note, written in toothpaste on the window, that they will see him again next time.

Mr. Spaceman is considered one of the best country songs about space. Although it contains elements of psychedelic rock, which gained great popularity in the 1960s.

The song was featured in the musicals Jukebox and Return to the Forbidden Planet. And in 1984, it was broadcasted as a wake-up call to astronauts aboard the Discovery shuttle STS 41 D.

8.    Walking on the Moon. The Police

Walkin on the Moon - The Police
Frame from The Police’ video Walking on the Moon.

One of the works of the young and not yet very famous at that time Sting, which he wrote while hung over in a hotel after a concert in Munich in 1979. Gordon Matthew Sumner says that he was inspired to write the song by his girlfriend Deborah, as well as by the fact that he could not stand on his feet. Thus, the musician decided to call the song Walking on the Moon because when you are in love, you are free from gravity.

The song became the second number-one hit for The Police in the UK. The band also filmed a video for it at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. In the video, the musicians pose with guitars in front of the Saturn V rocket, and drummer Stewart Copeland even taps out a beat on it with his drumsticks.

9.    Cosmic Girl. Jamiroquai

Jamiroquai Cosmic Girl
Cosmic Girl. Credit: JohnDotto. Posted in Cosmic Girl

We list this British band’s song not only because of the title. This rhythmic track belongs to the space disco genre, and its psychedelic lyrics are full of space terms.

I’m scanning all my radars
Well she said she’s from a Quasar
Forty thousand million light years away
It’s a distant solar system.

The song became an unconditional hit and the band’s hallmark, with 80 million plays on Spotify and 70 million views on YouTube. And one of the New Space pioneers, the British billionaire and owner of the Virgin Orbit aerospace company Richard Branson, even named a giant Boeing 747 transport rocket launcher after Cosmic Girl.

10. Space Truckin’. Deep Purple

Deep Purple

Deep Purple’s Machine Head album begins with Highway Star, about cars and truckers, and ends with a song about “truckers” in space.

Well, we had a lot of luck on Venus
We always had a ball on Mars
We’re meeting all the groovy people
We’ve rocked the Milky Way so far.

The song turned out such a musical success that 15 different bands have made cover versions of it. And Deep Purple created a 31-minute live version of the song, which includes a lot of improvisation by the band members.

Bonus track: Major Tom (Coming Home)

David Bowie’s character Major Tom, and his Space Oddity years were an influence on many musicians, as we’ve seen (as well as Ziggy Stardust, of course). That influence hit new heights in 1983 with Peter Schilling’s Major Tom (Coming Home) and it’s instantly familiar base line. Originally a German-language song that hit #1 in West Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, it only hit #2 in the U.S. dance charts, but has remained part of American Space-related popular culture ever since.

What is the song for astronauts lost flying out to space?

Columbia crew
STS-107 Columbia crew. Image credit: NASA

If David Bowie’s song Space Oddity was about a fictional astronaut lost in space, then Deep Purple recorded their second song about space, Contact Lost, about a real tragedy that happened to the Columbia shuttle. The Columbia exploded on landing over Texas on February 1, 2003. All seven members of the team were killed. The musicians were just working in the studio on the new album “Bananas” when the disaster struck.

CDs with Deep Purple albums were found among the wreckage of Columbia. After learning that the crew members loved their music, the band decided to dedicate a song to the dead astronauts and transferred the rights to it to their families.

The best songs for spaceflight

Now that you knew the most popular space songs on Earth, let’s find out what songs are often played in space. Astronauts always take their favourite music to orbit, and there are musical instruments on the station. Melodies help astronauts tune up to certain tasks or relax, creating a familiar earthly atmosphere.

What were the first songs that sounded in space?

The first song to be sounded in space was a Ukrainian folk song called “Watching the Sky and Thinking a Thought”. Ukrainian and Soviet cosmonaut Pavlo Popovych performed it on 12 August 1962 during the Vostok 4 mission. Popovich’s song was requested by Sergei Korolev, the chief rocket designer of the USSR and also Ukrainian by birth.

The original song goes like this: “I am watching the sky and wondering why I’m not a falcon, why I don’t fly.  But the astronaut changed the text and sang: Here I am a falcon, and here I am flying!” The song sounded simultaneous both in space and on Earth as Korolev sang along with Popovich over the radio.

After returning, the cosmonaut was often asked why Ukrainian songs are so sad. He answered, that it was his people who always first repelled the attacks of foreign troops and defended themselves against invaders. So he didn’t like “Kalinka-Malinka”.

Solovyanenko “Дивлюсь я на небо” Ukrainian song 1976

And “Jingle Bells” became the first song played in space using a musical instrument. On 16 December 1965, it was played on a harmonica and bells by astronauts Wally Schirra and Thomas P. Stafford during NASA’s Gemini 6A space flight.

What songs were used to wake up astronauts?

Astronau DJ

Songs started being used to wake up astronauts with the Gemini program. NASA considered that this would support the corporate spirit of the astronaut and ground crews, and they were not mistaken. The playlist is compiled by MCC controllers, friends and family members of the astronaut’s crew and is quite eclectic, ranging from rock, country, classical, jazz, along with children’s songs about space and national folklore. The recording is usually followed by a call from Mission Control wishing the crew good morning.

This first happened in December 1965, when a composition from the musical “Hello, Dolly!” sung by Jack Jones woke the Gemini 6 crew. The Apollo 10 crew woke up to Frank Sinatra’s “Come Fly With Me,” For Apollo 11 NASA played news and sports reports instead, but soon went back to music for the Apollo 12 mission. Two years later, Apollo 15 astronauts woke up to the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Wake-up music was widely used on Space Shuttle flights. For example, on the last STS 135 mission, which lasted 14 days, the astronauts were woken up by:

  • “Run the World (Girls)” by Beyonce
  • “Don’t Panic” and “Viva la Vida” by Coldplay
  • “Man on the Moon” by REM
  • “Mr. Blue Sky” by Electric Light Orchestra
  • “Rocket Man” by Elton John
  • “Good Day Sunshine” by The Beatles

By the way, the Beatles’ songs can be considered record holders for listening in space. STS missions played them more than 12 times. And for the latest Atlantis mission, Sir Paul McCartney even recorded a personal greeting: “Good morning guys, wake up! And good luck on this last mission of yours. Great job.” The full list of NASA’s wake-up calls from all missions can be found here.

What songs do astronauts store on their playlists?

If you’ve ever wondered what kind of music astronauts listen to in orbit, ESA suggested we take a look at the Spotify playlist of ISS astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti, who set the record for the longest space flight by a woman at 199 days and 16 hours. Cristoforetti’s playlist has about 100 songs, from classical music to Billy Joel and Pink, including songs about space.

NASA Moon tunes: What space songs will play during the 2nd Artemis mission?

In 2019, on the 50th anniversary of the legendary Apollo 11 flight, US President Donald Trump signed a directive to restart the lunar program under the name Artemis. 2024 has been chosen as the year that American astronauts will return to the Moon. In honour of this epoch-making event, NASA has announced a competition for the best space songs playlist, which will be played during the first manned Artemis spaceflight!

In June 2019, every inhabitant of the Earth could send their proposal. NASA Moon tunes launched on July 13 and 14 and aired live on NASA’s Third Rock Radio, just days before the anniversary of the Apollo 11 launch.

Which space songs made it to NASA Moon tunes?

Moon playlist has 186 tracks. Along with Space Oddity, Fly Me to the Moon, and other tracks we have mentioned above, the following songs appeared on the list:

  • Skyfall – Adele,
  • Stairway to Heaven – Led Zeppelin,
  • Bark at the Moon – Ozzy Osbourne,
  • We are all made of Stars – Moby,
  • Starlight  – Muse,
  • Moonlight Drive – The Doors,
  • Under the Cherry Moon – Prince, 
  • Learn to fly  – Foo Fighters,
  • What’s next to the Moon – AC/DC,
  • Moon is up – The Rolling Stones,
  • and many other space songs that have become classics.
Korean K-pop boy band BTS, Credit: Big Hit Entertainment

It also looks like, for the first time in the history of space flights, a song by the Korean K-pop boy band BTS will be heard in space. Hundreds of thousands of the band’s fans sent several songs to the NASA Moon Tunes selection, of which one track, Lights, was selected.

Lights is an electropop power ballad released in 2019. The 5-minute track touches on themes of love and self-acceptance. BTS refer to themselves and the listener as each other’s light and sing about mutual motivation to overcome challenges on a positive tune.

The song almost immediately became a hit and was received positively by critics. At the 2020 Japan Gold Disc Awards, the single “Lights / Boy with Luv” received the “Top 5 Singles” award, and the song “Lights” was awarded “Song of the Year” by Download Magazine (Asia).

In the NASA Moon tunes playlist, BTS’s “Lights” is ranked 19th between “That’s Amore” by Dean Martin and “Ready to Start” by Arcade Fire.

BTS ‘Lights’ official music video


Of course, we have mentioned a batch of popular space songs, and we’ve left out The Church’s Under the Milky Way with its glorious Synclavier (not bagpipe!) solo. And David Crosby’s Southern Cross. And about 100 other great tunes. Let us know, what space songs are among your favourites.

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