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Sounds From Space -- Music for Yuri's Night 2014!

04/10/2014 11:42 pm ET | Updated Jun 10, 2014

Wow, where did the past year go? It's once again time to dust off your space helmets and dancing shoes and get ready to celebrate the anniversary of the first human space flight! 53 years ago, on April 12th, 1961, cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first person to travel into outer space aboard Vostok 1. Twenty years later, on April 12, 1981, astronauts John Young and Robert Crippen were the first to reach orbit aboard a space shuttle. And twenty years after THAT, in 2001, space fans decided to create an event celebrating space exploration every April 12th-- dubbed Yuri's Night in honor of the bold Mr. Gagarin!

In the years since, there have been parties all over the world, on the Internet, and even on the International Space Station. This year, the 12th falls on a Saturday in the US, hopefully giving space enthusiasts a lot more free time to celebrate, whether it be with a traditional party, a visit to a museum or observatory, skywatching with a telescope or binoculars, or simply a few quiet moments set aside to contemplate the history and future of space exploration. There's no one way to celebrate Yuri's Night, as the 189 events in 47 countries registered so far illustrate-- they run the gamut from trivia challenges in Australia to playings of vintage space-related Russian records in the Netherlands to films and discussions in Italy to astronomical observing in Turkey. Check out the official Yuri's Night website's party listing to see if you can find an event near you.

Last year, Boston University's chapter of Students for the Exploration and Development of Space celebrated with a space-themed costume contest (my foamboard jetpack won first prize), and the year before, we took in a planetarium show at the Museum of Science. This year, I'm planning to take part in a science and technology education event on campus early in the day, and then have a movie-and-music night with the other club members along the lines of last year's celebration.

And however you choose to celebrate this weekend, having the right music is very important. For users of Spotify, the Yuri's Night organization has created a playlist here. In 2012, I tried my own hand at coming up with a list of space songs to play on Yuri's Night that inspired a lot of positive feedback as well as just as many suggestions for songs I'd missed. I incorporated most of them into last year's updated post, which the Yuri's Night YouTube channel collected as a handy video playlist here. And, just as before, people responded with suggestions for other songs to add-- which I've included here. So, without further ado, here's an updated list of Music To Blast Off To!

ABBA- What About Livingstone?. Every space fan has at some point been asked "What's that good for, anyway?" This song describes one possible response.

Air Traffic-- Shooting Star. "I'm fed up in here/ in my atmosphere/Don't you know who you are?/You're my shooting star"

Angels and Airwaves--Love Like Rockets. A love song from the perspective of an astronaut, this song always reminds me of James Lovell, commander of Apollo 13, and his wife Marilyn.

Ash-- Girl From Mars and Shining Light. Will you celebrate Yuri's Night by looking to the stars and remembering the girl from Mars, or by setting off some Roman candles in the night as a shining light?

Barenaked Ladies and Chris Hadfield--ISS (Is Somebody Singing). Space Station Commander Chris Hadfield performed this song live from space with a children's chorus and the famous Canadian band Barenaked Ladies... and then I got it stuck in my head for the next few days, because it's just that good!

Gennady Belov-- "Starry Sky's Song" An alternatively peaceful and bouncy tribute to Yuri Gagarin in song. I don't seem to be able to find an English translation of the lyrics.

The Beatles--Across the Universe. I don't think this requires any explanation.

Kyle Breese and Joey Beesley--Sixteen Minutes From Home. Even though it's by another band, we might call this a sequel to Stephen Kay's "The Challenger" (see below)--a tribute full of the energy and excitement that drove the people it's about.

Black Sabbath--Into the Void. Suggested during the SEDS Yuri's Night videochat. "Rocket engines burning fuel so fast /Up into the night sky they blast/Through the universe the engines whine..."

David Bowie--Space Oddity, and Starman. Two of those "obligatory" songs that no space playlist is complete without.

Gustav Brom-- Dobry Den Majore Gagarine (Hello, Mr. Gagarin) Also known as "Tribute to the Astronaut", this popular Czech jazz song was actually written on the day of Yuri Gagarin's flight and released just three days later-- now that's a quick turnaround time! There's an English translation of the lyrics here

Coldplay--Speed of Sound. Speaking of songs that remind me of people from space history, this is the one I associate with Joseph Kittinger. (If I could video-edit, I'd make an Excelsior-Stratos fanvid for it, but I can't, so I won't.)

Daft Punk--Around the World. Suggestion from the Yuri's Night Facebook page. It's quite catchy!

John Denver--Looking for Space and Flying for Me. Sad but good, especially together.

Diana Degarmo--Reaching for Heaven. "This is how it feels, reaching for heaven! This is how it feels, kissing the sky!"

Nikolai Dobronravov-- He Said, "Let's Go!" From a composition dedicated to Yuri Gagarin called, appropriately enough, Constellation of Gagarin, this Russian-language song celebrates the man "who opened the star trail"!

Duran Duran-- Planet Earth. Looking for signs of life on Planet Earth...

Engima--Goodbye Milky Way. "Shall I go? Shall I stay? 107 light-years away..."

Europe--The Final Countdown. Okay, the astronomy's a little questionable (Venus isn't "light-years" away), but it would be crazy not to include this song.

Filipinki-- Walentyna Twist. Back in 1964, Polish girl-group Filipinki wrote this playful song celebrating Valentina Tereshkova, who had become the first woman in space the previous year. There's an English translation of the lyrics here.

Leslie Fish--Hope Eyrie, Surprise!. A beautiful, serious song about the moon landings, and a funny, less-serious song about the Soviet side of the Space Race.

Florence and the Machine--Cosmic Love. If I ever get to be in a movie with Dramatic Action Scenes, I want this to be playing over them. That is all.

Bob Geldorf--Thinking Voyager 2 Type Things. An enthusiastic meditation on the perspective on life that thinking about the exploration of the solar system inspires within us, part song and part spoken-word poetry.

Hum--Stars. Suggested during the SEDS Yuri's Night videochat. "She thinks she's missed the train to Mars/She's out back counting stars..."

Gregory and the Hawk--Boats and Birds. A beautiful song about love and traveling, kind of a lullaby. "Just leave me your stardust to remember you by."

Indigo Girls--Galileo. Galileo didn't invent the telescope, but he was one of the first astronomers to use one to observe the night sky. What this "king of night vision, king of insight" discovered changed our understanding of the universe forever.

Inspiral Carpets--Saturn V. The Saturn V rockets took the Apollo astronauts to the moon, and the rockets themselves were taller than the Statue of Liberty. Small wonder that the singer thinks they "really were the greatest sight".

Elton John--Rocket Man. You really didn't think I'd leave this one out, did you?

Kansas--Icarus (Born on Wings of Steel). The world's first aerospace engineer was the mythological Daedalus, who, according to ancient Greek legend, built wings of wax and feathers to escape the palace of the wicked King Minos along with his son Icarus. Daedalus warned his son not to fly too high, but Icarus was caught up in the joy of flying and soared too close to the sun, with tragic results. This modern song about that ancient myth captures Icarus's thoughts.

Jordin Kare and Krisoph Klover--Fire in the Sky. The "We Didn't Start the Fire" of space songs, this song describes the history of human spaceflight from Yuri Gagarin to the space shuttle.

Stephen Kay -- The Challenger. An awesome song in and of itself, with an incredible backstory.

Korobeiniki (AKA "The Tetris Theme")--While it's not specifically space-themed, Yuri's Night Social Media Director Rick Hanton suggested this famous Russian song for Yuri's Night in honor of Yuri Gagarin's homeland.

The Long Winters--The Commander Thinks Aloud. A bit sad for a party, but a great tribute to the Columbia astronauts.

Mando Diao-- Mr. Moon. "I've never been so sure I've never doubted you, Mr. Moon."

John Marmie--Water on the Moon, Apophis and Kepler. Who's more qualified to sing about the solar system than a NASA scientist and part-time songwriter? Also, I recommend looking up his songs "LADEE" and "IRIS", which don't have music videos yet.

The Moody Blues--Higher and Higher. "Climbing to Tranquility, finding its full worth, conceiving the heavens flourishing on Earth!"

Muse-- Starlight. "I will be chasing the starlight/ Until the end of my life..."

Mya- Where the Dream Takes You. A lot of early pioneers of spaceflight like Robert Goddard were laughed at for talking about flying to the moon seriously in a time when it was only science fiction. But they kept on, and proved the world wrong.

Nichole Nordeman--Brave. Very descriptive of my feelings towards the NewSpace industry--"So long, status quo, I think I'll just let go--you make me wanna be brave!"

Owl City--Galaxies, Alligator Sky, To the Sky. A lot of this artist's songs feature space themes, but these are the ones to which space or flight is most central--and they're very catchy, too!

The Police--Walking on the Moon. "Giant steps are what you take, walking on the moon..."

John Parr-- Man in Motion (St. Elmo's Fire). St. Elmo's Fire is an electrical effect that sometimes occurs on the masts of ships during storms. In the olden days, sailors regarded seeing it on as a good omen for their voyage. On a trip "up where the eagle's flying" or even higher, a little luck is quite welcome.

Private Numbers--Space is Our World. A variation on this band's previous song "Is This My World?", which already featured some Space Race imagery in its music video about a 1960s childhood, this song was written to be played for the crew of the Space Shuttle Discovery in 1990 on the day they deployed the Hubble Space Telescope.

Queen--Don't Stop Me Now, Flash Gordon. Are you a "supersonic man" or the "savior of the universe"? Who says you can't be both!

Rush--Countdown and Mission. Before we went to see the STS-133 launch, I played Countdown for my father to give him a description of what it would be like. The band actually was present at the first launch of the space shuttle, and this song includes snippets from the mission audio. I think Mission really describes my experience as a space fan, learning about "spirits who fly on dangerous missions" and being in awe of what they've done.

Savage Garden--To the Moon and Back. I didn't recognize the song title when it was suggested, but now I realize I first heard it in a Space Camp video! "Somewhere in a private place, she backs her bags for outer space, and she's looking for the right kind of pilot..."

Shiny Toy Guns--Major Tom. Inspired by David Bowie's "Space Oddity" (see above) and great in its own right.

Carly Simon--Touched By The Sun. I discovered this song through the documentary Christa McAuliffe: Reach for the Stars. "If you wanna be brave, and reach for the top of the sky..."

Frank Sinatra--Fly Me to the Moon. Astronaut Ron Garan suggested this song on his Twitter after reading last year's list. There's quite a few other versions of it, but this one is the classic.

Spiritualized--Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space. "All my time, until I die, we'll float in space, just you and I."

They Might Be Giants-- See the Constellation. Space exploration began people first looked up at the stars and wondered what they were. Before we could explore space with rockets and robot probes, we did it with telescopes, imaginations, and eyes turned skyward.

The Tornadoes--Telstar. No lyrics, but a really catchy musical piece with some cool sound effects.

Train--Drops of Jupiter. Dance along the light of day, and head off to the Milky Way...

Twin Atlantic--Free (Stratos Spaced Out Remix). "So you know that song they played over the highlight reel after the stratosphere jump? I can't remember what it was called, but the band name was something that sounded kind of airline-ish and it was really good..."

U2--Beautiful Day, In a Little While. In addition to their lyrics, both of these songs have some serious space cred--the band has used recordings of astronauts on the International Space Station singing along to both in their performances.

Up With People--Moon Rider. This song is based on astronaut Gene Cernan's description of his emotions upon seeing the Earth from the moon. And it is tearjerkingly beautiful.

The Vibrant Sound--Gravity. "I gotta take flight in the island sun/And be a shining one like the stars/I could blast off past all the molecules/Till I find the life on mars..."

Louise Warren -- Destiny. The theme song for the EPCOT ride Mission: SPACE, I memorized it before visiting the park and then sung along at the part in the pavilion where it's played.

Russell Watson--Faith of the Heart. I used to run into my parents' room every time I heard this song to sing along and watch the accompanying music video showing the history of exploration. Apparently there was some sort of TV show afterwards...

Wicked (the musical)-- Defying Gravity. Everyone deserves a chance to fly.

Will.i.am--Reach for the Stars. Those of you who've been following the Curiosity Mars mission may remember that this was the "secret" song the artist wrote after Curiosity's launch and promised to reveal after it landed on Mars. When it did, in August, the song was uploaded to the rover (yes, on Mars), and then beamed back to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for a very special first performance!

And albums, for when more than just one song is spacey:

Brian Eno--Apollo: Soundtracks and Atmospheres. Originally written for the documentary For All Mankind, all of the pieces for this album are inspired by the Apollo program.

The Orb--The Orb's Adventures Beyond the Otherworld. A psychedelic sci-fi concept album.

Vangelis--Albedo .39. The source of a lot of the music for Carl Sagan's awesome Cosmos TV series, but the songs that weren't used there are just as good, including the title, inspired by the Earth's planetary vital statistics. (The title comes from the percentage of the sunlight arriving at the Earth that is reflected back to space--39% or .39 on average.)

And, of course, feel free to play the soundtracks of your favorite space movies if you wish-- John Williams' Star Wars work is especially great!

Also, I highly recommend Soma FM Mission Control, an online radio station that mixes ambient music with audio from the Apollo program. It's one of the greatest stress-relievers I know of.

Did I forget any? Let me know!