Ground Control to Major Tom

David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” is one of the most memorable songs of the late 60s. Its release on July 11, 1969 not coincidentally coincided with the Apollo 11 moon landing. The single reached #5 on the British charts and later in his career Bowie revisited the theme several times. This odd song about an astronaut drifting in space is simply iconic. Now, audiences are discovering a uniquely new version of Space Oddity.

Over 19 million viewers have watched this new cover version. But it’s not performed by just another band. It’s a real, live astronaut singing the song, while floating in space. It was performed by Commander Chris Hadfield in May, 2013 while aboard the International Space Station. Apparently it is the first music video ever shot in space, and it is a must see. In fact, please take 5 minutes and watch it now.

It’s not exactly clear what Space Oddity’s lyrics mean. Major Tom might be an astronaut, a junkie, or Bowie himself. A song about space flight, a bad drug trip, or a rock star’s alienation? Who knows. One thing seems certain. Bowie’s Major Tom comes to a bad end. Wisely, I think, Hadfield changed the lyrics of his cover so that his astronaut makes it safely back to earth. I for one would not like to be up on ISS singing a song about never making it back home. Personally, as much as I admire Bowie’s original, I like Hadfield’s cover even more. Perhaps it’s because Hadfield has an advantage; whereas Bowie could only imagine what the coldness of space would be like, Hadfield knows firsthand.

Please do watch this video. There’s something about—I can’t quite put my finger on it. Haunting. Maybe a little unsettling. In some strange way, this is the most provocative video from space that I’ve seen in decades. Maybe it is Hadfield’s demeanor. We’re accustomed to the sight of jolly astronauts wholly aware of their PR purpose. Befitting the song, Hadfield seems wistful, maybe even a little sad up there. Hadfield spent about 5 months aboard the ISS and he looks like a man living very far from earth. No other crew members appear in the video; he seems alone, and lonely in his tin can.

Everyone knows that the ISS is a place for scientific research. But it is also a place for men and women to look down on the earth and think about what it means when a species can leave the surface of its home planet. And sing a song about it.

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