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Credit: Paul Carless

How Pink Floyd became the first rock band to be played in space

Pink Floyd’s music remains special to this day, conquering not only earth but also the universe. Be it their oblique references in songs like ‘Set the Controls for The Heart of The Sun,’ ‘Astronomy Domine’ and ‘Let There Be More Light’ or their post-1970’s sounds which, through lyrically explored terrestrial themes, offered a transcendental, floating in the void feeling. Their connection to outer space was organic.

Initially in denial about this special relationship that their soundscape shared with the galaxy, Roger Waters was annoyed about their music being labelled as ‘Space Rock’ and said, “Christ! I hardly ever read science fiction… People listen to Dark Side of The Moon and call it ‘space rock’ just because it’s got moon in the title,” during an interview with the Zigzag magazine in March 1973 post the release of The Dark Side of the Moon.

But kismet won’t have it any other way! Time and again they were reminded that they couldn’t be chained to earth, that their creations were meant to explode like The Big Bang and scatter in space. Perhaps the band’s freestyle instrumental jam in the BBC TV studio on July 28, 1969, was a foreshadowing of what was yet to come. The band played live while the BBC programme named Omnibus: So What If It’s Just Green Cheese broadcasted the footage of the first moon landing.

Their performance of the jam now known as ‘Moonhead’ remains exclusive as it was never released officially. Reminiscing about the event, David Gilmour told The Guardian in 2009:The programming was a little looser in those days, and if a producer of a late-night programme felt like it, they would do something a bit off the wall… It was a live broadcast, and there was a panel of scientists on one side of the studio, with us on the other.” He described the song as, “A nice, atmospheric, spacey, 12-bar blues.” 

They tried to break off the grip of the cosmos after the event by consciously bringing about a change in lyrical style (which was predominantly penned by Waters then), according to Gilmour: “I think that was sort of the end of our exploration into outer space.” Little did they know that 19 years after the first moon landing their connection with space would be manifested with utmost grandeur once more. Meanwhile, the band hit a rough patch and Richard Wright and Roger Waters went their separate ways.

Pink Floyd, then containing only David Gilmour and Nick Mason, released a live album Delicate Sound of Thunder on November 22, 1988. Six days later, on November 28, while they were attending the launch of the Soviet spacecraft Soyuz TM-7 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, cosmonauts Sergei Krikalyov and Alexander Vokov insisted on taking a cassette copy of the album and playing it as they completed their mission of docking with the orbiting Mir space station.

An ecstatic Gilmour said, “To say that we are thrilled at the thought of being the first rock band to be played in space is something of an understatement.” The cosmonauts, after listening to the music of the universe, left the cassette on the space station. It remained there till 2001, conversing with the stars until the station re-entered the earth’s atmosphere in March that year as the de-orbiting process began and burned up fragmenting into the South Pacific Ocean near Fiji.

This was also the first album that was officially released in the Soviet Union. The band keen on reaching out to the universal audience, pulled it off with this literally out of the world publicity stunt.

However, like a phoenix rising from ashes, the band’s song ‘Eclipse’ from the album Dark Side of the Moon was once again chosen for an outer space adventure by NASA on 10th March 2004. I guess Pink Floyd can’t dodge what’s written in the stars.

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