Strange as it may seem, Saturday will mark the first year PSSPost Space Shuttle. On July 21, 2011, the space shuttle Atlantis touched down at Kennedy Space Center at the conclusion of STS-135, the 135th and final mission of NASA’s space shuttle program.

A number of historical lasts occurred within STS-135, which is to be expected when you retire what is arguably the most recognizable and indisputably the longest running spaceflight program ever put forth by humankind. Setting aside the fact that Atlantis flew with the smallest crew since the maiden voyage of Challenger, STS-135 saw:

  • The final docking of a space shuttle with the International Space Station (ISS);
  • The last spacewalk involving a space shuttle (though no shuttle crew performed the extravehicular activity);
  • The final downmass payload for the foreseeable future, as no other operational or planned spacecraft will have the shuttle’s ability to return major cargo from orbit (Atlantis brought back largely broken components from the ISS so analysts could determine the cause of the system failures).

Lost in the technical finalities were a number of sentimental end-chapters for the space program, not least of which was the wake-up song tradition. Since the days of the Gemini program, NASA has used musical pieces as the wake alarms for spacecraft crew, and every shuttle mission has a specific lineup of songs used to signify the start of the astronauts’ working day. While the tradition will continue in a certain fashion aboard the ISS, and will likely be adopted on whatever manned spacecraft succeeds the shuttle, never again will there be a musical wake-up call aboard a space shuttle.


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A Kate Smith rendition of “God Bless America” was followed by a historical greeting from astronaut and mission CAPCOM Shannon Lucid as the final wake-up call for a space shuttle crew. The complete wake-up call playlist for STS-135 included:

While such human touches will forever have a place in manned spaceflight, the final chapter of musical accompaniment for shuttle astronauts is worth its own moment’s pause (if only to note that Coldplay somehow got two spots on the final shuttle playlist, while the likes of The Beatles and Elton John only merited one apiece).

That’s not just a sonorous send-off for shuttle spaceflight, it’s a momentously melodious mark-point for manned orbital Geek Trivia.