Roberta Flack Awakens Apollo 17
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As wake up time on flight day 9 approaches, all is quiet on the Apollo Communications System. Signals are moderately strong, with just a bit of hiss and crackles. And then you hear the bass and guitar open a song. Next, though filtered and processed in circuits designed to carry mostly the human voice, is the unmistakable serenade of Roberta Flack, rolling into "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face." The song runs for a few minutes, then fades out, followed by just a few light pops of static on the link. After a couple of calls from astronaut Bob Parker, capcom for Mission Control's Gold Team, the crew responds with greetings. Gene Cernan, Harrison Schmidt, and Ron Evans each come up on the radio to report that they have awakened and are in the process of preparing for the day's activities.

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Click to Hear: Apollo Astronauts awaken to the gentle voice of Roberta Flack, beamed in from a Earth, two hundred and thirty thousand miles away.

When the discussion turns to who selected the wake up music, it is revealed that Neil Hutchinson had the final say, with help from "a few accomplices." Cernan seemed happy with the selection, noting that is was one of the best songs created in the ten years leading to that moment in time. Perhaps Cernan was not a great fan of psychedelic rock and roll music and not likeley to respond positively from something like the Beatles' "Good Morning."

In late 2019 and early 2020, there was an interesting recognition on twitter of the wake-up call. Roberta Flack didn't know her music had been played on the communications link of Apollo 17, and became aware after a Twitter scan caught the mention:

12/16/2019:
    Ben Feist tweeted a link to Mission Elapsed Time 207:37:10
    (crew wake-up)

01/16/2020:
    Roberta Flack tweeted her amazement at finding that her
    music was ingenuity the wakeup call.

01/22/2020:
    Feist asks, "Did you know your music was played during
    the last mission to the moon?"

    Flack responds, "No, I did not!  Thank you for letting
    me know, Ben!"

As an avid follower of the Apollo Lunar Surface and Apollo Flight Journals, I have enjoyed learning countless items conveying a tale of human ingenuity, teamwork, luck, and the spirit of exploration. Forging the tools needed to accomplish John F. Kennedy's directive to go to the moon and safely return, the people of Project Apollo made it happen. Looking deeper into the journals, one can sense the refined finesse and stewardship embedded in the endeavor.

Another foray into the historical record of Project Apollo came to my attention recently, called Apollo Realtime. Audio recordings, photographs, video, and film documents have been pulled out of the archives and presented to the world on the internet as a minute by minute chronology of manned missions to the moon and back. This is not merely a television documentary, but instead a collection you pull up on your browser and let run all day, or for a few days nonstop. Being cooped up in a quarantine against the COVID-19 virus may not be so bad if you can immerse in some history of manned lunar exploration.

Ben Feist is a NASA software engineer and historian who has created Apollo In Real time and Apollo17.org. If you visit his sites, you will find incredibly well crafted presentations on the trips to the moon. They are a work in progress, as we have Apollo missions 11 and 17, with 12 and 13 in the works. I hope he can continue to build a complete history of all of the Apollo missions, as Feist takes history out of dusty books and brings it to life in beautiful detail.


Tags: Apollo 17, Roberta Flack, Gene Cernan, Harrison Schmidt, Ronald Evans, Neil Hutchinson, Music to the Moon

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