Probably the first rock hit with a space music theme was "Telstar" by The Tornados. This instrumental, which reached no 1 in 1962/63, was named after one of the first communication satellites.
In the early years, there were many rock tributes to the stars of the space age. On February 20, 1962, astronaut, John Glenn orbited the earth in his Friendship 7 capsule. Before the end of that year, Roy West's "The Ballad of John Glenn" and Walter Brennan and the Johnny Mann Singers' "The Epic Ride of John H. Glenn" had immortalized the act. Meanwhile, Sam "Lightnin'" Hopkins recorded "Happy Blues for John Glenn" the same day of the flight after watching it on his landlady's television.
John Stewart, best known as a member of the Kingston Trio before he went solo, sang the controversial "Armstrong," a tribute to the first man to step onto the moon.
The moon exploration era generated its own share of music tributes including Duke Ellington's "Moon Maiden," The Byrd's "Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins," and former Kingston Trio member John Stewart's controversial "Armstrong." Stewart's song talked of ghettos and starvation in the world, but was not the putdown of the space program everyone thought it to be. "We could for one moment sit there and watch one of our kind walk on the moon." Stewart later recalled. "Where we have really failed we have also succeeded greatly."
The shuttle age also brought a round of tribute songs from Roy McCall and Southern Gold's "Blast Off Columbia" to the Canadian rock group Rush's "Countdown". In 1983, songwriter Casse Culver honored Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, with "Ride, Sally, Ride."
During the shuttle era, the Challenger Disaster brought about more tributes. John Denver contributed "Flying For Me," which he never released as a single, but performed at a senate hearing, and added to the 1987 multi-artist album "Challenger: The Mission Continues." Denver, who had lobbied to be allowed to fly into space, himself, died in the crash of his experimental aircraft in 1997.
Astronaut Ron McNair, a musician and one of the crewmembers on Challenger, had planned to play and record instrumental sax composition while in orbit. The song, composed by Jean Michel Jarre called "Last Rendezvous," never got recorded as the Challenger exploded seventy-three seconds after liftoff, killing all aboard.
On April 5, 1986, the concert "Rendezvous at Houston" drew more than 1 million people, earning it a mention in the Guinness Book of World Records. Jarre arranged for his song to be performed with Kirk Whalum sitting in for Ron McNair on the sax solo. The song, now called "Last Rendezvous (Ron's Piece)" was also included in the album "Rendezvous," which was produced a few weeks later as a dedication to the fallen astronaut and his crew.
And now for the countdown.