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11 Eye-Opening NASA Wakeup Calls

NASA has been waking up astronauts using music since the Apollo Program. Sometimes those wakeup calls get pretty weird.

1. STS-111 - "I Got You Babe" from Groundhog Day

On June 19, 2002, the crew of the Space Shuttle Endeavour awoke to a tinny rendition of "I Got You Babe" by Sonny and Cher, taken from the Groundhog Day soundtrack. This song was chosen because the crew, much like Bill Murray's character in Groundhog Day, was caught in a loop, repeating the previous day's deorbit activities, hoping to land that day if weather cooperated. In Groundhog Day, Murray's character was repeatedly awakened by "I Got You Babe" at 6am each morning. NASA's history notes (emphasis added):

For commander Ken Cockrell this was his third mission in a row where he's stayed in orbit for an additional two days in the hopes of good weather in Florida. On STS-80 the landing finally cooperated and he landed in Florida, for STS-98 and STS-111 he landed at the alternate site in California.

You can hear the wakeup (WAV file), including a nod to Groundhog Day at the end.

Although "I Got You Babe" was the last wakeup call for STS-111, its first was "Gettin' Jiggy wit It" by Will Smith. Smith's song was intended for Mission Specialist Valery Korzun, who took command of the International Space Station that day.

2. STS-44 - Patrick Stewart

On November 25, 1991, the crew of Atlantis was treated to an extended wakeup call recorded by Patrick Stewart, who was four years into his star turn as Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the USS Enterprise on Star Trek: The Next Generation. At the TNG theme played, Stewart intoned:

"Space: the final frontier.
This is the voyage of the Space Shuttle Atlantis.
Its ten-day mission:
To explore new methods of remote sensing and observation of the planet Earth...
To seek out new data on radiation in space, and a new understanding of the effects of microgravity on the human body...
To boldly go where two hundred and fifty-five men and women have gone before!"

"Hello Fred, Tom, Story, Jim, Tom, and especially Mario -- this is Patrick Stewart, choosing not to outrank you as Captain Jean-Luc Picard, saying that we are confident of a productive and successful mission. Make it so."

Mission Specialist Mario Runco was a Trek fan, you see.

3. STS-26 - Robin Williams

On September 30, 1988, actor Robin Williams woke the crew by announcing, "Good morning, Discovery!" in the style of his 1987 hit movie Good Morning, Vietnam. This was the first wakeup call of the first Shuttle mission after the Challenger disaster in 1986, so a little levity was called for. After that intro, a modified version of the "Green Acres" theme played, with newly recorded Shuttle-appropriate lyrics, followed by two other songs. (Details of the lyrics and the other two songs are not listed in NASA's historical record.)

4. STS-9 - All Work and No Play

The crew of STS-9 worked around the clock in shifts from November 28 through December 8, 1983. Because of this, no wakeup calls were transmitted. (STS-9 was the Shuttle mission carrying the first Spacelab module to orbit; it also contained the largest crew of any space mission to date -- six men.) A similar round-the-clock schedule was maintained on STS-51-F in 1985 and many other missions afterwards.

5. STS-29 - William Shatner

On March 16, 1989, the Discovery crew started their day with the "Star Trek" theme, then comments from William Shatner congratulating the astronauts on their mission. Mission Control then played fight songs from various crew members' alma maters. Finally CAPCOM G. David Low said, "Discovery, [this is] Houston -- beam me up, Scotty!"

Shatner made another wakeup call for STS-133 on March 7, 2011:

6. STS-29 - Kids

I'll just quote NASA's history of wakeup calls directly for this adorable moment from March 18, 1989:

Mission Control sent recordings of astronauts' children shouting such things as "Get up, Dad, get out of bed and get to work" and "Hi, daddy, this is your darling daughter telling you to wake up." This was followed by "What a Wonderful World" by Louis Armstrong. The crew responded with "Homeward Bound" by Simon and Garfunkel.

Discovery landed safely later that day, concluding STS-29. Simon and Garfunkel's "Homeward Bound" has been played five times for returning astronauts.

7. STS-37 - Tom Selleck as "Magnum PI"

On April 11, 1991 the Atlantis crew was greeted by the "Magnum PI" theme song, followed by Tom Selleck greeting Mission Specialist Linda Goodwin: "Good morning, and a special wakeup to Linda. This is Tom Selleck and I hope you had a nice night's sleep, but it's time to get up and go to work." The crew landed safely later that day, and NASA's history notes that Goodwin was "a big Selleck fan."

8. STS-53 - The Singing Dogs

The crew of STS-53 were known unofficially as "Dog Crew I," after dubbing themselves the "Dogs of War," because their flight was supposed to be the last one devoted to Defense Department work. For their first wakeup call of the mission on December 3, 1992, Mission Control played a version of "Jingle Bells" performed by The Singing Dogs, a creation of Dr. Demento. Carl Meade at Mission Control said, "Crew dogs, wake up. We got work to do." Commander David Walker responded, "Good morning, Carl. Dogs of War are wide awake." The next morning the crew was greeted with "I Wanna Be a Dog" by Nancy Cassidy.

Interestingly, there was a Dog Crew II on STS-69. Starting on September 8, 1995 that crew was treated to a series of dog-themed wakeup calls, including "Hound Dog" by Elvis, the "Scooby Doo" theme, "Bingo" (performed by Pilot Kenneth Cockrell's five-year-old daughter's kindergarten class), the "Rin Tin Tin" theme, "A Hard Day's Night" by The Beatles, the "Underdog" theme song, "He's a Tramp" from Lady and the Tramp, and finally "Snoopy's Theme" from Peanuts. In 2001, Cockrell was subjected to "Who Let the Dogs Out" as a tribute to his time on the Dog Crew II. You can hear Cockrell's bemused reaction (WAV file) to the song, following an awkward exchange with Mission Control.

9. STS-107 - "Amazing Grace"

STS-107 was Columbia's last flight; the orbiter broke up upon reentry and all seven crew members were killed, making the string of wakeup calls on their mission extremely poignant. Midway through the mission, on January 19, 2003, "Amazing Grace" was played for Mission Specialist Laurel Clark, who was on her first spaceflight. The same song had been played on bagpipes at her wedding, and was later played at her funeral. On the same morning, Radiohead's "Fake Plastic Trees" was played for Pilot William "Willie" McCool.

Later during the mission, on January 29, 2003, John Lennon's "Imagine" was played for McCool and Payload Specialist Ilan Ramon, the first Israeli astronaut. McCool and Ramon noted that from orbit, no borders on Earth were visible, and that the astronauts hoped the people of Earth could live in peace. Ramon proceeded to translate words from the song in Hebrew. "Imagine" was played at Ramon's funeral, ending with a recording of Ilan's voice from the Shuttle, speaking Lennon's words in Hebrew: "You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one." You can hear an MP3 of the song and the astronauts' remarks, though it may make you weep.

10. "Star Wars" Theme

Perhaps the most predictable wakeup song imaginable was the "Star Wars" theme composed by John Williams. Various "Star Wars" music was played eight times for NASA wakeup calls, starting in 1984, then proceeding through missions in 1988, 1993, 1996 (both the main theme and "Darth Vader's Theme"), 1999, 2007, and 2009. That 2009 song (MP3) was actually the "Cantina Band" theme, which the crew referred to as a "loony wakeup song" (I can only hope it's NASA's policy to emphasize that Han shot first).

11. STS-135 - "Good Day Sunshine," "Man on the Moon," "Rocket Man," "Run the World (Girls)"

The last Shuttle mission featured lots of great music, including a special wakeup message from Elton John along with "Rocket Man," a perennial NASA favorite. Beyoncé greeted the crew with "Run the World (Girls)" and a recorded message. Michael Stipe of R.E.M. sang an a cappella version of their hit song "Man on the Moon" and commented, "I recorded 'Man on The Moon' for NASA in Venice, Italy, where Galileo first presented to the Venetian government his eight-power telescope, and in 1610 wrote 'The Starry Messenger' (Sidereus Nuncius), an account of his early astronomical discoveries that altered forever our view of our place in the universe." The capper came on July 15, 2011, when Sir Paul McCartney woke the crew, saying "Good morning guys, wake up! And good luck on this, your last mission. Well done," after The Beatles' song "Good Day Sunshine" played. The last wakeup song for the Shuttle program was Irving Berlin's "God Bless America" performed by Kate Smith, and Mission Control staff stood at attention as it played. Although the Shuttle program has ended, the ISS still receives regular wakeup calls.

You can see video of all the STS-135 wakeup calls!

Lots More

This list is just scratching the surface of the amazing wakeup call history compiled by NASA Historian Colin Fries. You can read his history (PDF link) for tons more, which also includes links to many of the more modern wakeup call recordings. I should also note that the Beach Boys appear dozens of times, and Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" shows up a lot too.

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Richard Bouhet // Getty
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4 Expert Tips on How to Get the Most Out of August's Total Solar Eclipse
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Richard Bouhet // Getty

As you might have heard, there’s a total solar eclipse crossing the U.S. on August 21. It’s the first total solar eclipse in the country since 1979, and the first coast-to-coast event since June 8, 1918, when eclipse coverage pushed World War I off the front page of national newspapers. Americans are just as excited today: Thousands are hitting the road to stake out prime spots for watching the last cross-country total solar eclipse until 2045. We’ve asked experts for tips on getting the most out of this celestial spectacle.

1. DON’T FRY YOUR EYES—OR BREAK THE BANK

To see the partial phases of the eclipse, you will need eclipse glasses because—surprise!—staring directly at the sun for even a minute or two will permanently damage your retinas. Make sure the glasses you buy meet the ISO 12312-2 safety standards. As eclipse frenzy nears its peak, shady retailers are selling knock-off glasses that will not adequately protect your eyes. The American Astronomical Society keeps a list of reputable vendors, but as a rule, if you can see anything other than the sun through your glasses, they might be bogus. There’s no need to splurge, however: You can order safe paper specs in bulk for as little as 90 cents each. In a pinch, you and your friends can take turns watching the partial phases through a shared pair of glasses. As eclipse chaser and author Kate Russo points out, “you only need to view occasionally—no need to sit and stare with them on the whole time.”

2. DON’T DIY YOUR EYE PROTECTION

There are plenty of urban legends about “alternative” ways to protect your eyes while watching a solar eclipse: smoked glass, CDs, several pairs of sunglasses stacked on top of each other. None works. If you’re feeling crafty, or don’t have a pair of safe eclipse glasses, you can use a pinhole projector to indirectly watch the eclipse. NASA produced a how-to video to walk you through it.

3. GET TO THE PATH OF TOTALITY

Bryan Brewer, who published a guidebook for solar eclipses, tells Mental Floss the difference between seeing a partial solar eclipse and a total solar eclipse is “like the difference between standing right outside the arena and being inside watching the game.”

During totality, observers can take off their glasses and look up at the blocked-out sun—and around at their eerily twilit surroundings. Kate Russo’s advice: Don’t just stare at the sun. “You need to make sure you look above you, and around you as well so you can notice the changes that are happening,” she says. For a brief moment, stars will appear next to the sun and animals will begin their nighttime routines. Once you’ve taken in the scenery, you can use a telescope or a pair of binoculars to get a close look at the tendrils of flame that make up the sun’s corona.

Only a 70-mile-wide band of the country stretching from Oregon to South Carolina will experience the total eclipse. Rooms in the path of totality are reportedly going for as much as $1000 a night, and news outlets across the country have raised the specter of traffic armageddon. But if you can find a ride and a room, you'll be in good shape for witnessing the spectacle.

4. PRESERVE YOUR NIGHT VISION

Your eyes need half an hour to fully adjust to darkness, but the total eclipse will last less than three minutes. If you’ve just been staring at the sun through the partial phases of the eclipse, your view of the corona during totality will be obscured by lousy night vision and annoying green afterimages. Eclipse chaser James McClean—who has trekked from Svalbard to Java to watch the moon blot out the sun—made this rookie mistake during one of his early eclipse sightings in Egypt in 2006. After watching the partial phases, with stray beams of sunlight reflecting into his eyes from the glittering sand and sea, McClean was snowblind throughout the totality.

Now he swears by a new method: blindfolding himself throughout the first phases of the eclipse to maximize his experience of the totality. He says he doesn’t mind “skipping the previews if it means getting a better view of the film.” Afterward, he pops on some eye protection to see the partial phases of the eclipse as the moon pulls away from the sun. If you do blindfold yourself, just remember to set an alarm for the time when the total eclipse begins so you don’t miss its cross-country journey. You'll have to wait 28 years for your next chance.

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The Coolest Meteorological Term You'll Learn This Week
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Two tropical cyclones orbiting around each other in the northwestern Pacific Ocean on July 25, 2017.
RAMMB/CIRA

What happens when two hurricanes start to invade each other's personal space? It's easy to picture the two hurricanes merging into one megastorm that tears across the ocean with twice the fury of a normal storm, but what really happens is less dramatic (although it is a beautiful sight to spy on with satellites). Two cyclones that get too close to one another start to feel the pull of a force called the Fujiwhara Effect, a term that's all the rage in weather news these days.

The Fujiwhara Effect occurs when two cyclones track close enough to each other that the storms begin orbiting around one another. The counterclockwise winds spiraling around each cyclone force them to participate in what amounts to the world's largest game of Ring Around the Rosie. The effect is named after Sakuhai Fujiwhara, a meteorologist who studied this phenomenon back in the early 1900s.

The extent to which storms are affected by the Fujiwhara Effect depends on the strength and size of each system. The effect will be more pronounced in storms of equal size and strength; when a large and small storm get too close, the bigger storm takes over and sometimes even absorbs its lesser counterpart. The effect can have a major impact on track forecasts for each cyclone. The future of a storm completely depends on its new track and the environment it suddenly finds itself swirling into once the storms break up and go their separate ways.

We've seen some pretty incredible examples of the Fujiwhara Effect over the years. Hurricane Sandy's unusual track was in large part the result of the Fujiwhara Effect; the hurricane was pulled west into New Jersey by a low-pressure system over the southeastern United States. The process is especially common in the northwestern Pacific Ocean, where typhoons fire up in rapid succession during the warmer months. We saw a great example of the effect just this summer when two tropical cyclones interacted with each other a few thousand miles off the coast of Japan.

Weather Channel meteorologist Stu Ostro pulled a fantastic animated loop of two tropical cyclones named Noru and Kulap swirling around each other at the end of July 2017 a few thousand miles off the coast of Japan.

Typhoon Noru was a small but powerful storm that formed at about the same latitude as Kulap, a larger but much weaker storm off to Noru's east. While both storms were moving west in the general direction of Japan, Kulap moved much faster than Noru and eventually caught up with the latter storm. The Fujiwhara Effect caused Typhoon Noru to stop dead in its tracks, completely reverse its course and eventually perform a giant loop over the ocean. Typhoon Noru quickly strengthened and became the dominant cyclone; the storm absorbed Kulap and went on to become a super typhoon with maximum winds equivalent to a category 5 hurricane.

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