IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Rock to the Mars rovers’ playlist

At the start of each shift, the scientists and engineers behind the Mars mission are treated to music that fits the mood of the day. Check out the mission managers' song selections.
Mission manager Mark Adler selects the music that sets the theme of the day for the team working with NASA's Spirit rover on Mars.Damian Dovarganes / AP file
/ Source:

You won't find this playlist on any radio station. Only a Martian would mix ABBA with R. Kelly, Beyoncé with Gene Autry, and the Rolling Stones with Rodgers and Hammerstein.

Or someone pretending to be a Martian.

The eclectic playlist is Spirit rover mission manager Mark Adler's way of waking exhausted engineers and scientists who are working and sleeping on Mars time and dealing with a sometimes temperamental rover millions of miles away. And with entries like the Ramones' "I Wanna Be Sedated," it shows that NASA people are anything but stuffy.

The music can lighten tense times. During the nail-biting moments before Spirit's descent and landing in January, at the suggestion of team member Rob Manning, Adler played Bobby McFerrin's "Don't Worry, Be Happy."

The Beatles tune "We Can Work it Out" greeted the team one morning as it tried to debug computer problems that stalled Spirit for several days. For other reasons that become clear as you read the list, even The Cars get airtime, as does Weird Al Yankovic (either you know his music all too well or you never heard of him).

And, of course, Elvis makes an appearance, singing "Stuck On You" after a frustrating day of no driving.

Most of the songs are played in the morning shortly after the crew has assembled for work. Adler has picked the bulk of the music heard by his team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Music was played for the 1997 Pathfinder crew members, too.

A separate team operating Spirit's twin, Opportunity, is also following the tradition. Earlier this week, the Opportunity group began their day listening to "Rock Around the Clock" by Bill Haley and his Comets. The group has heard a less eclectic mix, however.

Adler and his colleagues take requests for the Spirit playlist but ultimately run their own show.

"We get lots of suggestions from inside the team and out, and they do get used," he told "That is, when the suggestions are good ones."

Adler has preselected a few songs that mention rivers and running water, in the event that Spirit discovers what it went looking for. He did not reveal what those songs were. But he said, "I also have U2's 'I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For' to play before that."

Here is the Spirit playlist, along with some explanations by Adler for why the songs were chosen. A sol is a Martian day, slightly longer than a day on Earth at 24 hours, 37 minutes.

  • Sol 2: Good Morning, Good Morning, by the Beatles.
  • Sol 3: Oh What a Beautiful Mornin’, by Rodgers and Hammerstein.
  • Sol 4: Hail to the Chief, by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. (Presidential phone call.)
  • Sol 5: Satisfaction, by the Rolling Stones. ("I can't get no ...", Air bags not cooperating.)
  • Sol 6: Get Up, Stand Up, by Bob Marley. (Lift mechanism actuated.)
  • Sol 7: Da Da Da, by Casaca. (Brazilian song suggested by investigator from Brazil, "Red Rovers Go to Mars" student that week from Brazil.)
  • Sol 8: Soak Up the Sun, by Cheryl Crow. (Laid-back sol.)
  • Sol 9: I Can See Clearly Now, by Jimmy Cliff. (Picture taking sol.)
  • Sol 10: Unchained, by Van Halen; Hit the Road Jack, by Buster Poindexter; Turn, Turn, Turn, by the Byrds. (Cable-cutting, backup on landing deck, start turn on deck.)
  • Sol 11: I Get Around, by the Beach Boys; Round and Round, by Ratt; You Spin Me ‘Round, by Thalía. (Rest of turn on landing deck.)
  • Sol 12: Born to be Wild, by Steppenwolf; Rawhide, by Riders in the Sky; Who Let the Dogs Out? by the Baha Men. (Egress.)
  • Sol 13: Reach Out, by the Four Tops. (First robotic arm activity.)
  • Sol 14: You’ve Got the Magic Touch, by the Platters. (Touching robotic arm down on Mars.)
  • Sol 15: If You Love Somebody Set Them Free, by Sting; Roam, by The B-52’s; Good Times Roll, by The Cars. (Last engineering activities, first drive on the surface.)
  • Sol 16: After Midnight, by Eric Clapton; Trash Day, by Weird Al Yankovic. (Crew starts Mars day after California midnight, part of the sol dedicated to deleting contents of flash.)
  • Sol 17: We Will Rock You, by Queen. (First arm activities and observations on a rock.)
  • Sol 18: Sledgehammer, by Peter Gabriel. (Intended first sol for rock abrasion tool, though ran into problems later, to put it mildly.)
  • Sol 19: S.O.S., by Abba. (Objective was to regain contact with Spirit after a loss of communications. We did.)
  • Sol 20: Baby, Talk to Me, from the musical "Bye Bye Birdie." (Objective was to get Spirit to send data. She did.)
  • Sol 21: Satellite, by The Hooters. (A rousing lullaby for when we were trying, and succeeded, to get the rover to go to sleep.)
  • Sol 22: We Can Work it Out, by the Beatles. (Beginning debugging activities to get Spirit back to normal.)
  • Sol 23: Start Me Up, by the Rolling Stones. (Booting in crippled mode.)
  • Sol 24: Flash, by Queen. (Clearly a flash problem, continuing to debug.)
  • Sol 25: (You're The) Devil In Disguise, by Elvis Presley, and With a Little Help From My Friends, by The Beatles. (Continuing debug, got picture!)
  • Sol 26: I Want a New Drug, by Huey Lewis and the News. (Trying yet another recipe for getting task trace, still didn't work.)
  • Sol 27: Anticipation, by Carly Simon. (Seeing if the file deletes will do the trick or not. They did.)
  • Sol 28: On the Road Again, by Willie Nelson. ("Can't wait to get back on ...," back to normal use of the flash file system, itching to get going.)
  • Sol 29: Here Comes the Sun, by the Beatles. (More normal operations, Mars Express coordinated overflight.)
  • Sol 30: Lean On Me, performed by Club Nouveau. (Intended RAT brush sol, pressing RAT on rock, though activities did not complete.)
  • Sol 31: I Wanna Be Sedated, by the Ramones. (Very low activity sol to get the rover rested and ready for surgery on the following sol.)
  • Sol 32: Wipe Out, by the Surfaris, and We're Not Gonna Take It, by Twisted Sister. (File system reformat.)
  • Sol 33: Back In the Saddle Again, by Gene Autry, and The Star Spangled Banner, performed by Beyoncé. (Back to normal operations, color flag picture on RAT.)
  • Sol 34: The Laundry Cycle: Pounded on a Rock, by The Bobs, and Bump 'N' Grind, by R. Kelly. (First RAT grinding.)
  • Sol 35: Up Around the Bend, by Creedence Clearwater Revival. (Intended drive around lander to begin drive to crater. Didn't get anywhere though.)
  • Sol 36: Stuck On You, by Elvis Presley. (Drive didn't work yestersol -- we've been stuck here for weeks. Drive did work later that sol.)
  • Sol 37: Proud Mary, performed by Tina Turner. ("And we're rolling, rolling, rolling on the river ...", first long drive, ended up being more than 20 meters.)
  • Sol 38: Runnin' With the Devil, by Van Halen. (HGA [High Gain Antenna] problem that sol, no activities, song played late in the sol.)
  • Sol 39: Hit the Road Jack, by Buster Poindexter. (Another long drive — yes, this is a reuse of that song.)
  • Sol 40: What a Wonderful World, by Louis Armstrong. (Mars, that is.)
  • Sol 41: Open Road Song, by Eve 6. (Driving song, though only did several inches of driving to position in front of rock.)
  • Sol 42: Lift Up Every Stone, by John Hiatt. (Observations of the rock "Mimi.")
  • Sol 43: Livin' on a Prayer, by Bon Jovi. (Many sols tend to start with our fingers crossed.)
  • Sol 44: Way Over Yonder, by Carole King. (Heading for that crater.)
  • Sol 45: Touch Me in the Morning, by Diana Ross. (Touch-and-go sol.)
  • Sol 46: Wake Up Little Susie, by The Everly Brothers. (Generic wakeup song.)
  • Sol 47: Dig Down Deep, by Hot Soup. (Trenching sol.)
  • Sol 48: Working in the Coal Mine, by Devo. (Working in the trench.)
  • Sol 49: Coisinha Do Pai, by Beth Carvalho. (Brazilian song played on Mars Pathfinder, played again for Carnival weekend.)
  • Sol 50: Samba De Marte, by Beth Carvalho. (Brazilian song written by same artist inspired by use of previous song on MPF, this one is a "Mars Samba," also for Carnival weekend. Starts off "Hello NASA!")
  • Sol 51: Chariots of Fire, by Vangelis. (Appropriate for slow-motion races.)

Opportunity's playlist:

  • Sol 2: So Happy Together, by the Turtles (First full sol with both rovers on Mars.)
  • Sol 3: The Spirit of Radio, by Rush (HGA release.)
  • Sol 4: n/a
  • Sol 5: Stand, by REM; I'm Still Standing, by Elton John (Standup.)
  • Sol 6: Lookin' Out My Back Door, by Creedence Clearwater Revival; Release Me, by Elvis Presley (Middle wheel release); Born to Run, by Bruce Springsteen (Wake up.)
  • Sol 7: I'm Free, by The Who (Cable Cut No. 3); Going Mobile, by The Who (Egress.)
  • Sol 8: You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet, by Bachman-Turner Overdrive (First dual surface nominal rover operation.)
  • Sol 9: I'm Coming Out, by Diana Ross (IDD release.)
  • Sol 10: Pictures of You, by The Cure (First MI image.)
  • Sol 11: Please Please Tell Me Know, by Depeche Mode (First MB data readout of soil.)
  • Sol 12: I'm Leaving Here, by Motorhead (First drive since egress.)
  • Sol 13: Little Honda (aka First Gear), by the Beach Boys (Jaunt away from lander.)
  • Sol 14: Should I Stay or Should I Go, The Clash (We went.)
  • Sol 15: The Flintstones Theme Song, end credits, Version 2 from 1962 (For the arrival at the "bedrock.")
  • Sol 16: Slip Slidin' Away, by Paul Simon (Large slips along drive up to the outcrop.)
  • Sol 17: Wake Me Up, by Wham (Touch and go.)
  • Sol 18: Running Down a Dream, by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (Drive along the outcrop.)
  • Sol 19: Here I Go Again, by Whitesnake (Repeat of sol 18 drive objective.)
  • Sol 20: I Like Dirt, by Red Hot Chili Peppers; The Pioneers of Mars, by Landa/Linsley (MI/MB [Microscopic Imager / Mossbauer spectrometer] and drive.)
  • Sol 21: Send Me On My Way, by Rusted Root; Desert Drive, by Tangerine Dream (Drive back to El Capitan.)
  • Sol 22: Invisible Touch, by Genesis (MI-MB placement.)
  • Sol 23: Spinning Wheel, by Blood, Sweat, and Tears (Right front trenching wheel.)
  • Sol 24: Trench Town Rock, by Bob Marley (Make use of the trench.)
  • Sol 25: Fascination, by Human League (Regarding the img return from the trench.)
  • Sol 26: Body Movin', by the Beastie Boys (Every rover part exercised.)
  • Sol 27: Touch and Go, by Emerson, Lake and Powell (Touch and go.)
  • Sol 28: I Am a Rock, by Simon and Garfunkel (El Capitan target assessment.)
  • Sol 29: Riders on the Storm, by the Doors (Heavy weather at DSS-63 and DSS-14.)
  • Sol 30: Rock'n Me, by Steve Miller Band (first RAT on Opportunity.)
  • Sol 31: Rock around the Clock, by Bill Haley and His Comets (Alpha Proton X-ray Spectrometer / Mossbauer spectrometer.)
  • Sol 32: Let It Be, by the Beatles (Long Mossbauer integration -- no IDD or mobility.)