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A R Wessels & P Collins, 1989, "Space Activities and Global Popular Music Culture", Presented at International Astronautical Federation Congress, Malaga, 1989, Paper no. IAF-89-671..
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Space Activities and Global Popular Music Culture
Allison Rae Wessels* and Patrick Collins**

During the "space age" era, space activities appear increasingly as a theme in Western popular music, as they do in popular culture generally. In combination with the electronics and telecommunications revolution, "pop/rock" music has grown explosively during the space age to become an effectively global culture. From this base a number of trends are emerging in the pattern of influences that space activities have on pop music. The paper looks at the use of space themes and imagery in pop music; the role of space technology in the modern "globalization" of pop music; and current and future links between space activities and pop music culture, including how public space programmes are affected by its influence on popular attitudes.


Every country has indigenous musical traditions, but during the twentieth century a new phenomenon has arisen with the rapid international spread of types of popular music drawing from several cultural traditions - jazz, folk, rhythm and blues, rock & roll. This process has accelerated with the development of mass-produced means of electronic reproduction: the introduction of radio was followed by 78 rpm gramophone records, and then by "long-playing" 33 and 45 rpm records, and television. These were followed in turn by hi-fi stereo systems and tape cassettes, and are now being superceded by digital recording techniques and compact discs.

As a result, while individual countries and regions retain their traditional music, there is today an international form of mass-produced popular music - "pop" or "rock" music - which is performed and distributed world-wide via the mass media. This music contains many sub-groups - folk music, jazz, blues, rock & roll, electronic, soul, psychedelic, reggae, heavy metal, motown, punk - and also draws on musical traditions from many different countries.

Commercial pressures play an important role in propagating pop music, and songs and albums are ranked competitively according to their sales figures. These are measured primarily by the height that a work reaches in the "Charts" - lists of the Top 10, Top 40, Top 100 etc. - bestsellers in the previous week, month or year. Because of this, it is necessary to acknowledge that although a song or album may be a "critical success", in the sense of being recognised as artistically significant in some respect, the extent of a work's global recognition and popularity is measured by its sales performance, particularly in the countries constituting the major pop music markets. Sales in the USA, Japan, FR Germany and UK alone account for almost two thirds of the world total (1).

In 1987 commercial sales revenues from recorded music exceeded $15,000 million (of which some 70% was pop/rock music and 10% classical), on sales of more than 2,500 million units (singles, LPs, cassettes and compact discs). Though seriously affected by the recession of the early 1980's, and by the growth of illegal home taping of copyrighted music, the music industry turnover is currently growing at between 10% and 20% per year.

Two common misconceptions that are worth dispelling are first, that only children buy pop music: More than half of all purchasers are 25 or older (1). Second, it is commonly supposed that pop music is purely ephemeral: In fact more than half of all album sales are of music more than four years old. In addition, while many artists' musical careers last only a few years, top artists' careers exceed twenty years, and successful albums can earn significant profits for longer than this. For example, three of Billie Holliday's recordings reached the UK Top 40 during 1987, more than twenty years after her death (1).

In the pop music world, as in other areas of the arts and entertainment industry, there is a wide range in the degree of commercial success of participants: First, there are a small number of "superstars" who earn spectacular incomes of several $$ million per year or more at their peak (which may not last very long), and have lifetime earnings of the order of $100 million. Such world famous figures include Elvis Presley, John Lennon and Paul McCartney of the Beatles, Bruce Springsteen, Michael Jackson and Madonna, and to date have come mainly from the USA, and secondarily from the UK.

There is a second, much larger, group of "stars", who are millionaires; that is, they earn several $$ million in their performing careers, providing at least a comfortable private income for life. There are hundreds of individuals and bands in this category, too numerous to list; they are often widely recognised popular figures; and every country with a commercial pop music industry produces them.

Third, as in other areas of the music and entertainment industry, there are very many commercially successful pop singers, earning a reasonable income (though this may be hard work), without being widely recognised outside a circle of perhaps a few tens of thousands of fans. Typically musicians in this group stop performing after a few years, and either pursue careers in some other role within the industry such as agents, managers or producers, or they leave it altogether.


The story of the varied national origins of the many different strands of pop/rock music is a fascinating one. The range of national inputs to Western pop/rock has grown to include such varied musical traditions as Reggae from the Carribean, South American rhythms, Bhangra from India, and Rai from Algeria. Most recently music from many African countries - South Africa, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, Zimbabwe, Algeria - has begun to achieve commercial popularity. This process has been aided by the growing availability of low-cost electronic means of recording music.

While the "pop" version of traditional types of music may be less artistically valuable than the originals, it has an important role to play, not the least being to give developing countries visibility in the ongoing popular culture of the industrialised world. The striking success of Calypso and later Reggae in making the cultural voice of the Carribean heard and recognised around the world, has encouraged musicians in other countries to develop a pop voice, such as the recent growth of "Pop-Rai" in Algeria. Thus while it is obviously desirable for original musical traditions to continue and prosper, it also seems desirable for newer "pop" versions to develop in parallel and contribute to the global pop culture. In this respect the recent musical collaboration by Western stars

with musicians in other countries, such as Paul Simon's concerts in Southern Africa, Peter Gabriel's work with Youssou N'dour from Senegal, and David Byrne's recordings of Brazilian musicians, have been of great value in achieving wider international audiences for hitherto nationally-based musicians.

In part because of its wide popular appeal, pop/rock music is widely viewed as being "low-brow" or decadent, in contrast to "high culture" or older musical traditions. It is certainly repetitive and simple in much of its subject matter, the dominant theme being "love". Other themes are also important, however: for instance, concern about various social problems has long been a theme. This is echoed by the objects of the many "benefit" concerts organised to raise funds for charities, which include disaster funds, anti-racism, aid for political prisoners, nuclear disarmament and a range of ecological causes. The most famous such activity was the globally televised "Live-Aid" concert discussed below.

The secularity of pop music may also offend those with strong religious beliefs. However, one of its strengths as a global culture is that, by not being linked to any single national tradition, it is able to relate to people in every country: Certainly the pleasures and pains of love have perennial importance in all cultures (though they perhaps receive more attention in more affluent countries which can afford to be more self-indulgent).

The Irish rock singer Bob Geldof has described this well:

"...rock music is one of the great twentieth-century art forms, not least because of its internationalism, its ability to transcend the artificial barriers of language and frontiers and speak instinctively to the whole world in a way that other sorts of music have never quite done. It communicates on a much more fundamental level than any culture's classical music. Rock music has an aggression that articulates a basic emotion through rhythm. It's sexy. It beats on some primal pulse and the response of any human being to it is intuitive and emotional" (2).
Thus, though it is traditional in every country for parents to complain about their childrens' taste in music ("At least music used to have a tune when I was young!" "You'll deafen yourself listening to that noise!") it must be recognised that rock music has extraordinary power: It attracts youth in every country, and is sociologically significant in many societies, playing a major role in adolescent development through providing hero figures, peer group links, and emotional support. More important for the present paper, it provides a vigorous base for the development of a common "global culture".

Over the past three decades, as space activities have changed from being a futuristic fantasy to being real-life, every-day events, there has been a growing interest in space within popular culture. Today outer space provides an important new arena in the popular entertainment media for fictional exploration, adventure and heroism. This interest has been paralleled by the use of space themes and imagery in pop music. A significant number of commercially successful songs have concerned space activities, and a larger number have used space imagery, either verbal or visual. The following list (which is far from exhaustive) contains representative examples of space-related pop music by better-known musicians.

A good starting-point is the music of the US progressive jazz musician Sun Ra, who as early as the late 1950s recorded several albums containing tracks on space themes such as "Space Mates", "Lights of a Satellite" and "Distant Stars", and carrying dedications to the space age under the heading "Space sounds of the satellite world tomorrow":

"This is the music of the greater transition
To the invisible irresistible space age.
The music of the past will be just as tiny in the world of the future
As Earth itself is in the vast reach of outer space
Tomorrow beyond tomorrow is the greater kingdom,
The kingdom of the space age." (3)
In 1962 the Randells released the satirical song "Martian Bop" in which "the Martians plan to throw a dance for all the human race".

In 1963 the instrumental single "Telstar", released by the Tornadoes in recognition of the first telecommunications satellite, was a surprise chart success.

In 1967 the British band Pink Floyd, who were one of the earliest to use electronic synthesizers, released "Interstellar Overdrive" and "Astronomy Domine" on their album Piper at the Gates of Dawn.

The US band the Byrds released their album The Notorious Byrd Brothers which carried the track "Space Odyssey" based on the same story as the famous space fiction film from the same era "2001 A Space Odyssey."

In 1988 Pink Floyd released Saucerful of Secrets with the track "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun

The US band Grateful Dead recorded the long track Dark Star on their live album.

In 1969 the British singer David Bowie released the hit single "Space Oddity" concerning an astronaut, Major Tom, who stranded in space.

The US band Jefferson Airplane released Blows to the Empire, the whole second side of which concerned hijack a starship.

The Grateful Dead recorded the song "Mountains of the Moon" on their album Aoxomoxoa.

In 1970 the Byrds recorded "Mr Spaceman" on their album Untitled.

The jazz-rock band Van de Graaf Generator released their album H to He (dedicated to the process of stellar nuclear fusion) which carried the song "The Pioneers Over C" about pioneering interstellar astronauts who are lost in space.

In 1971 the British band Hawkwind, who are particularly associated with space, released their album In Search of Space.

The German band Tangerine Dream released Alpha Centauri, on which the highly atmospheric title track comprises half the album.

In 1972 David Bowie released the album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars which carried the song "Starman" which concerns a visit to Earth by an extra-terrestrial: "There's a starman waiting in the sky, he'd like to come and meet us but he thinks he'd blow our minds..."

The band Deep Purple released the song "Space Trucking" on their chart hit album Machine Head.

Hawkwind released the space fantasy album Doremi Fasol Latido, with the track "Space is Deep."

The British folk singer Donovan released the album Cosmic Wheels which carried the satirical song "Intergalactic Laxative" about the waste disposal problems of the early spacecraft.

The British singer Elton John recorded the song "Rocket Man" concerning an astronaut sent to colonize Mars.

In 1972 and 73 Hawkwind performed and recorded their concert and "concept album" Space Ritual.

In 1973 Pink Floyd released Dark Side of the Moon, which became that year's world number one album. Though the songs were not particularly space-related, the title and the music strengthened the band's associations with space.

Jefferson Airplane changed their name to Jefferson Starship (and some years later still to Starship). Their album Red Octopus carried the song "I Want to See Another Planet".

The British band Yes released the album Yessongs with the track "Starship Trooper".

In 1974 Jefferson Starship's album Dragonfly carried the song "All Fly Away" about escaping to "... a space city like a jewel on wings..."

The Grateful Dead released the album Grateful Dead from the Mars Hotel.

In 1975 the British band Wings (led by former member of the Beatles, Paul McCartney) released the album Venus and Mars of which the title track concerns taking a holiday on a starship.

David Bowie re-released "Space Oddity" which became a hit for the second time. He also played the leading role in the film "The Man Who Fell to Earth" concerning an extra-terrestrial who visits Earth to try to save his people from ecological disaster.

Elton John released the song "Dan Dare Pilot of the Future" about the famous British strip cartoon space hero.

In 1976 the Canadian band Rush released the space-related concept-album 2112.

In 1977 the Carpenters had a hit single with the song "Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft".

In 1978 the German band Kraftwerk released their album Die Mensch Maschine which carried the track "Spacelab".

In 1979 the British band Police released the hit "Walking on the Moon" which does not concern space activities, but gained very wide publicity for the concept. The band's vocalist, Sting, later went on to a solo career as a singer and film actor, becoming famous for his role in the space film "Dune".

In 1980 David Bowie released the album Scary Monsters and Super Creeps on which the track Ashes to Ashes referred bleakly to his astronaut character Major Tom: "... we know Major Tom's a junkie, strung out in heavens high, hitting an all-time low..."

Hawkwind released Levitation with the song "Space Chase".

The British band Queen recorded the sound track for the feature film of Flash Gordon, the early US science fiction space hero.

In 1981 the science fictional concept-album Time by the US band Electric Light Orchestra carried the song Ticket to the Moon".

In 1982 the US singer Ry Cooder released the album The Slide Area of which the first song is "UFO has Landed in the Ghetto" about an extra-terrestrial visiting a night-club.

In 1983 the British rock musician and artist Brian Eno released the instrumental album Apollo Atmospheres and Soundtracks which was entirely devoted to the US Moon-landing project.

In 1986 the US band Boston, whose trade mark on their album-covers is a flying saucer, released the space-related concept-album Third Stage of which several tracks, "Launch", "Third Stage" and "Another World" concern space activities.

In 1987 the band The Firm released the song "Star Trekkin" which was a chart hit, testifying to the continuing popularity of the space fiction television series Star Trek.

In 1987 Michael Jackson's album Bad (which sold a record-breaking 19 million copies for revenues of $125 million) carried the song "Moonwalker".

In 1988 rock music's thematic links with space, as well as its innate internationalism, were illustrated by the invitation by Glavkosmos to Dave Gilmour and Nick Mason of Pink Floyd to attend the launch to the MIR space station of Jean-loup Chretien carrying a cassette of their most recent album for the MIR cosmonauts.

In 1989 Elvis Costello's album Spike carried the track "Satellite" about less desirable effects of global TV broadcasting.

Hawkwind released the album Night of the Hawk with the song "Starflight".

In addition to the above there are many instrumental jazz songs with titles concerning space. Many well-known bands and musicians have written an occasional song about a space subject, and a number of musicians have used space themes repeatedly, and are to a greater or lesser extent popularly associated with space. The references made to space in the preceding list cover many moods, ranging from inspiring, heroic and even Utopian through serious, personal and trivial, to bleak and frightening. Though generally light, many of them repay attention. The pattern of evolution through the late 1980s and early 1970s in the references to space activities in this important popular art-form has been interestingly discussed in (4),

Another way in which space activities directly influence pop/rock artists is in their use of space imagery on album covers and more recently in music videos, Such imagery may relate closely to the subject of the music, or may, more commonly, be used primarily for its visual interest. Two recent examples of the many videos containing space imagery are the 1987 chart hit "Pump up the volume" by M/A/R/R/S, and the 1989 song "Stand" by R.E. M. from their album Green.

A discussion of space themes and popular music would not be complete without mentioning two other types of popular music relating to space, namely soundtracks for space films and television series, and "filksongs":

Space Sound-Tracks

In commissioning music for sound-tracks, the film and television industries have created two kinds of instrumental music that are permanently associated with space in the minds of listeners. The first is music that is used as a theme tune for a particular film or television series. Famous examples are the theme-tunes from the televisions series "Star Trek" and "Doctor Who", and from the feature films "Star Wars" (a single of which was a chart hit in 1977) and "Close Encounters of the Third Kind". There are also cases where an existing piece of music becomes better known as a theme tune, such as "Alzo Sprach Zarathustra" which is widely recognised as the theme-tune of the film "2001".

A second type of music used for soundtracks in films and television series concerning space is best described as "spacey music". A musical idiom has developed whereby certain types of sound are popularly accepted as evocative of space or space activities - conveying an eery, strange atmosphere, and commonly electronic. Activities such as the "Fugue-Sat" project of the French artist Martin Geure discussed below can be seen as an extension of this tradition.


"Filksongs" is the name given in the science fiction community to songs on science-fiction themes, many of which concern space activities. The subject matter of "filksongs" concerning space ranges from such serious and realistic subjects as the pioneering days of the Apollo astronauts, to stories set in fictional situations in the far future. Typical titles are "The Rockets' Red Glare", "The Spacewreck of Old Ninety-Seven", and "Faithless Jack the Spaceman".

Although "filking" is only a minority activity among the science fiction-reading community, science fiction is an increasingly significant part of modern literature, and it is inherently international. Many thousands of university courses are now taught on various aspects of science fiction, particularly in the USA, and in comparison with the general public the readership is well educated, and relatively well-informed and enthusiastic about space exploration.

Some "filksongs" have been recorded commercially, hut none have been successful to date. In this respect, they are similar to a large number of commercial pop-songs about space that were not commercially successful, such as Tom Rapp's thoughtful album Stardancer, Paul St John's 1977 single "Spaceship Lover", or the 1978 album Planet Earth.

In the future, when space activities represent a much larger proportion of global economic activity, filksongs will be of historical interest as the earliest folk songs of the space age. It may therefore be only a matter of time before some such songs are commercially successful.


"Shrinking world" and "global village" are phrases used to describe the change which has taken place in the past three decades (and which is still continuing) as international telecommunications systems have brought countries "closer together" and made even the remotest places in the world instantly accessible - at least to those rich enough to have access to international telecommunications. Although global geographical exploration has been under way for centuries, access to remote areas has grown rapidly recently, and the true "global village" is essentially a phenomenon of the space age.

Satellite technology, more than any other invention, is responsible for this. Initially used to provide telephone and television links, satellite services have expanded to include meteorology, providing up-to-date weather forecasts in every country. Navigation and location satellite services have greatly reduced the danger of getting lost for ocean sailors and explorers, as they are soon to do for travellers virtually everywhere.

Satellite technology has also greatly aided the globalization of pop music culture, which today spreads rapidly world-wide through all the electronic communications media. Telecommunications satellites have also introduced the phenomenon of live global television broadcasts ot events with international interest such as the Olympic games. The pop music industry is today a major user of such satellite systems for the broadcast of live events. One of the first such broadcasts was "Asia from Asia", a concert given by the band Asia in Japan in 1975 and transmitted live by satellite to television stations in the USA.

Most famously, telecommunications satellites were used on 13 July 1985 to provide live television links between musicians in many different countries for the "Live Aid" concert brought about by Bob Geldof which reached a simultaneous audience of more than one billion people and raised more than $100 million to alleviate the famine in Sub-Saharan Africa.

At the time, the Live-Aid global concert represented the most complex use of satellite communications that had ever been organised, and was by far the most significant example of people all around the world united in a common purpose - expressed and animated by rock music. Such a superlative event well illustrates the global reach of pop music culture, and the strong social concerns of many pop musicians and their public - as well as the commercial and technological vigour of the industry.

Since then, international live music events have occurred increasingly often. For example on 3 June 1989 a five hour international concert headed by Sting in Rio de Janeiro was transmitted live on US television and shown in 100 countries, with performances from leading pop artists and speeches from politicians in many different countries including Brazil, USA, Britain, Australia, Japan, Poland and France, in aid of the charitable Rain Forest Foundation.

The ease with which pop culture has taken to satellite telecommunications is a continuation of its tradition of making use of ever advancing electronic technology. This started with the development and commercialisation of electric guitars by the now historic US firms of Gibson and Fender, which provided the ability to process the sound of the instruments electronically both in performance and in recording studios. Since then the sophistication of the music industry's technological capabilities has grown rapidly and continuously.

As the cost of transistorized electronic systems of all sorts has fallen, they have been used in electronic synthesizers which have grown ever more sophisticated with the incorporation of computers. There have even been a significant number of pop/rock artists who have used electronic synthesizers almost exclusively, such as the US band Tontos Expanding Head Band, the W. German bands Can, Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream, and the French musician Jean-Michel Jarre. Computers have also become widespread in controlling the light shows, lasers and sound equipment used in live performances, which may mass as much as 150 tons in major shows by leading bands. With the development of promotional videos, giant video screens and digital image-processing, further openings have arisen for new technologies that promise novelty and commercial advantage.

These links between pop culture and high technology are also apparent in the "high-tech" imagery popular in the industry - of which space imagery is the supreme example. The use of high technology by the pop music industry is in some respects "superficial" in that it is used partly for its novelty or public relations value. Nevertheless pop music is unique as the first popular art form that can be said to embrace technology in this way, and to interact and grow almost symbiotically with modern technology, as discussed by Bruce Sterling in connection with "Cyberpunk" fiction (5).


As pop culture matures, leading artists become popular public figures, and many give their support to popular causes, usually charitable. Ecological issues are a major beneficiary through such popular international pressure groups as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth. Popular concern for the Earth's environment has grown dramatically in recent years; it has become a significant political force in Europe, being an inherently international issue; and it is particularly associated with youth. It is also a theme in pop and particularly folk music, though there is space to give only a few examples here:

In the 1960s the song "What Have They Done to the Rain?" was immortalized by the US folk singer Joan Baez.

In 1971 the US singer Stephen Stills' second album carried the track "Ecology Song".

In 1972 David Bowie's album Ziggy Stardust opened with the haunting song "Five Years" about the Earth suffering from ecological catastrophe: "...News had just come over, Earth was really dying, News guy wept when he told us, We had five years left to cry in..."

In 1972 Paul Kantner and Grace Slick (of Jefferson Starship) released the album Sunfighter carrying the ecological song "Earth Mother".

More recently ecological concern is a common theme in "New Age" music which has become popular in the 1980s.

In 1986 the US singer John Denver released the album One World, the title and title-track reflecting the "hollistic" ecological viewpoint.

In 1989 the album Rainbow Warriors, a compilation of songs donated by 27 leading artists, was released internationally, all sales proceeds going to Greenpeace. it was named partly in memory of the Greenpeace ship sabotaged by French government agents.

The same album was marketed in the Soviet Union under the title Breakthrough, with royalties accruing to Greenpeace in the USSR. In view of the public embarrassment Greenpeace are likely to cause them, the Soviet authorities are to be applauded for encouraging such a painful but valuable thorn in the side of governments to operate in the USSR.

Also in 1989 the song "Spirit of the Forest" was recorded by some 50 major artists including Dave Gilmour to raise funds in support of efforts to prevent the destruction of the remaining tropical rain forests.

The singer Sting lead the 1989 international satellite concert mentioned above, and has given major support to the cause of establishing the Rain Forest Foundation.

It is interesting to note that in terms of popular culture such artists as Sting, Dave Gilmour, David Bowie and Grace Slick are linked to a greater or lesser extent to all three worlds - pop music, the ecological movement and the space industry, forming links which may well broaden in the future.

Although environmental concern is sometimes associated with a negative attitude to science and technology, it is unquestionable that the reduction of ecological damage being caused by humans will require the carrying out of much advanced scientific research, and the development of more sophisticated technology in many areas of industry. In particular, the space industry has a leading role to play in the solution of global environmental problems, by developing and operating the remote sensing satellite systems that are essential for characterising the many problems accurately and monitoring progress in their solution.

In her report to NASA on future directions for the US government space program, the ex-astronaut Sally Ride recommended a "Mission to Planet Earth", comprising a permanent international system of nine major satellites to be launched during the 1990s, plus the advanced ground-based facilities and institutions necessary to make full use of the data collected.

"Mission to Planet Earth is an initiative to understand our home planet, how forces shape and affect its environment, how that environment is changing, and how those changes will affect us.

Interactive physical, chemical and biological processes connect the oceans, continents, atmosphere and biosphere of Earth in a complex way.... And now it is clear that human activity also has a major impact on the evolution of the Earth System.

Only from Earth orbit can we gain the perspective necessary to observe the Earth System and the interaction of its components on a global scale" (6).

The Ride Report recommendations were made in direct response to the concern of the US public that the taxpayer-funded space program should benefit Earth. The Mission to Planet Earth has been adopted by NASA, and the upcoming International Space Year in 1992 will focus largely on global environmental problems.

It is striking that the experience of viewing Earth from orbit has inspired in those people lucky enough to have visited space an increased appreciation of the fragility and preciousness of our home planet: Many of the comments collected from cosmonauts and astronauts in the book The Home Planet concern such observations as the extraordinary beauty of the Earth; the apparent fragility of the biosphere; the visible damage being done by humans (such as the shroud of smoke over the tropical rain forests, desertification, and the noticeable pollution of the atmosphere); and the artificiality of national borders, and the need to cooperate internationally to solve global problems.

"The 'boundless' blue sky, the ocean of air which gives us breath and protects us from endless darkness and death, is but an infinitely thin film. How dangerous it is to threaten even the smallest part of this gossamer covering, this conserver of life" (7).
Seeing the world as a whole in which one people's behaviour affects all others, and global problems require everyone 5 participation for their solution, is perhaps the fundamental idea behind much of the ecological and social concern of popular music events such as Live Aid. Thus although the space industry and the pop music industry are quite different, and are driven by different financial imperatives, nevertheless to the extent that commercial pressures permit they have these deeper concerns in common.

No reference to the ecological significance of the space industry would be complete without mentioning the longer term promise that space holds. During the 21st century space technology may well provide access to inexhaustible resources of solar energy for the planet through construction of satellite solar power stations transmitting power from space to Earth, and also to mineral raw materials from extra-terrestrial sources - both without serious pollution on Earth. In 1979 the Canadian Mining Journal celebrated its 100th anniversary with a cover story on "Moon and asteroid mines" and concluded:

"Perhaps this kind of mining is a long way off, but we should understand that the costs are on the scale of our current Earth-based engineering projects and a need and desire to do this are all that is required" (8).
In view of the severe environmental problems that are caused by large-scale energy systems on Earth, and that are expected to result from mineral extraction in Antarctica as is now under active investigation, such possibilities, although they remain controversial (9), are potentially very important for humans longer-term future.

While pop music culture and space culture have certain shared traits, and space activities have influenced the music culture in many ways, it is interesting to note that music has links to and direct influences on the space industry.

Music in Space

The first such link came in the earliest days of piloted space flight when Wally Schirra took a Hohner Little Lady Harmonica into space aboard Gemini VI on December 15/16 1965 and played "Jingle Bells" with the accompaniment of Thomas Stafford on the jingle bells. Some 20 years later the late astronaut Ronald McNair, a talented amateur jazz musician, took a saxophone into orbit with him aboard Challenger and played several tunes floating in the mid-deck (10).

The next such links comprise a number of projects that have not yet succeeded, but are attempts to incorporate music into space activities (rather than the other way around). NASA's "Artist in Space" program was based on the principle that space is not only for scientists and astronauts, and that the arts, including music, could benefit from exposure to space.

The "Fugue-Sat" project, which is in need of substantial financial sponsorship, was developed by Aerospatiale in cooperation with the French musician Philippe Geure, who had worked with Jean-Michel Jarre on space-age musical instruments. The idea behind the project is to send music up to a small satellite in low-Earth orbit, synthesize the sound by processing it with light from the stars, and to re-direct it back down to Earth for reception by either individual receivers or in a concert-type arrangement, in order to provide mass entertainment with real "space music". Total cost estimates for this program, including a $19 million launch on a Conestoga launch vehicle, came to $50 million. Currently the project is in abeyance due to the high cost and lack of investment from promoters.

The imaginative project by the US singer John Denver to obtain an orbital flight as a source of musical inspiration has been thwarted first by the cancellation of the US Artist in Space program, and more recently by Glavkosmos' pricing of flights at $10 million. However, such interest may lead eventually to the first pop musician in space, bringing new meaning to the term "live by Satellite".

Actual ongoing links comprise mainly the use of satellites for broadcasting live TV music events. Although only a small proportion of total satellite use, these represent a significant proportion of international "live event" TV broadcasting. Such live music broadcasts result in the instantaneous dispersion of pop music by satellite throughout our global village.

The recent Soviet invitation to the British company Initial Film & Television to organise a rock concert at Baikonur cosmodrome during 1990 in connection with a launch to the MIR space station is another real link (11). Whether this event and others like it eventually come about remains to be seen, but the interest in linking space with popular music is obvious, and will in all probability increase in the future.

With total revenues from international live music events reaching several million dollars, it is possible to project that the next stage may involve a visit to MIR of an internationally recognised rock musician. Although Glavkosmos' price of some $l0-20 million for a short visit is beyond the means of all but the richest individuals, it is clearly within the range of the rock music industry, in view of the substantial scope for commercial exploitation. Not only are there a number of pop musicians who would be interested in performing in space, but producers believe that the finance necessary to undertake the venture could be raised commercially.

After this degree of participation by the music industry in space activities the next major step may have to await the introduction of fully reusable passenger launch vehicles, This will represent the decisive step in the development of the space industry from being a taxpayer-funded, government-controlled activity to being a self-supporting commercial industry.

Fully reusable launch vehicles currently being planned will reduce the cost of launch to some $250,000 per passenger (12). This would be low enough to enable popular musicians to visit orbit in order to record music and promotional videos. In this way, by providing significant passenger revenues in the early stages when costs are relatively high, the music industry could make a significant contribution to the evolution of the space industry.


Coincidentally, the era of pop music as a mass-market business activity is contemporaneous with the space age:

Starting to grow rapidly with the introduction of long-playing records in the late 1950s, after the almost static post-war decade, it grew explosively in the 1960s. After the recession of the early 1980s, and stimulated by the advent of digital technology, the industry is growing rapidly again in the late 1980s, and becoming increasingly international in its activities,

We have seen that the pop music industry is a major user of high technology, including telecommunications satellites, and that space activities appear in different ways - serious, satirical, allegorical - in a significant amount of rock music,

In its perpetual search for novelty and excitement, the music industry has drawn inspiration to date more from space fiction than from the space industry as it exists, However, in view of both the excitement and the novelty of orbital flight, the inspirational aspect of space activities is likely to return to the real space industry as the cost of space-flight falls with the introduction of fully reusable passenger launch vehicles in the near future. These will give popular musicians access to real space activities, which will have a correspondingly greater influence on popular music culture.

It is an obvious, but nevertheless important fact that young people, who form a substantial proportion of pop music buyers today, will be the taxpayers of tomorrow. Thus, unlikely though it may seem, since public space programs depend on taxpayers' support, buyers of pop music will have an increasing influence on the direction of future government space

programs. Already, as the population "greens", government space agencies are seeking to justify their access to taxpayer funding by emphasising their important role in resolving global environmental problems. Other trends in the pop music world may become equally important in future.

  1. Heather John, 'BPI Yearbook 1988/89', British Phonographic Industry, London 1968,
  2. Bob Geldof, 'Is that it?', Sidgwick & Jackson, London, 1986
  3. Sun Ra, 'Supersonic Sounds', 'Fate in a Pleasant Mood', ABC Records Inc, 1974
  4. David Downing, 'Future Rock', Granada, London, 1976
  5. Bruce Sterling, Introduction to 'Mirrorshades', Collins, London, 1988
  6. Sally Ride, 1987, " Leadership and America's Future in Space", NASA
  7. Kevin Kelley and Carol Dennison, Ed., The Home Planet, Addison-Wesley, Reading, Mass., 1988
  8. D W Strangway, May 1979, " Moon and asteroid mines will supply raw material for space exploration", Canadian Mining Journal, 100th Anniversary issue
  9. Daniel Deudney, 1982, " Space: The high frontier in perspective", Worldwatch Paper 50, Worldwatch Institute
  10. Aviation Week and Space Technology, 27 February 1984
  11. Malcolm Gerrie, Personal communication, Initial Film & Television, London, 1989
  12. Dietrich Koelle and Heribert Kuczera, 1989, " Sanger: An advanced launcher system for Europe", Acta Astronautica, Vol 19, No 1
A R Wessels & P Collins, 1989, "Space Activities and Global Popular Music Culture", Presented at International Astronautical Federation Congress, Malaga, 1989, Paper no. IAF-89-671..
Also downloadable from activities and global popular music culture.shtml

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