4 Odd Things David Bowie Taught Us About Space

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Legendary rocker David Bowie died on January 10 after a long battle with cancer, just two days after his 69th birthday and the release of his latest album, Blackstar. And though his 40-plus-year career gave us characters ranging from Ziggy Stardust to the Thin White Duke (not to mention Jareth the Goblin King), one of the most enduring aspects of Bowie's music is his fascination with and reverence for space.

1. ASTRONAUTS REALLY DO TAKE PILLS.

"Space Oddity" (1972) was Bowie's first hit, and not only did Major Tom tell us something of the melancholy nature of traveling in solitude and floating helplessly in space, he also reminded us that astronauts often deal with completely unappetizing food options and must compensate with pills (protein, in Tom's case). These days? Astronauts know why food tastes so bland—swelling of the nasal passages causes a constant feeling of congestion, which means that subtle food flavors don't come through. Those aboard the ISS frequently ask for spicier foods with added Sriracha or wasabi. But for the nutrients they can't get as easily up in the space station, like vitamins K and D, they supplement with pills.

2. LIFE ON MARS IS STILL A POSSIBILITY.

Bowie's 1973 single "Life on Mars?" was ambiguous in its lyrics and seems to reflect on the existential hope that there is more to life than that which is on our planet. Forty years later, that's still up for debate. Recent findings such as glass and water hint that life existing on the red planet is possible, and the rover Curiosity is still sending back images and data. But odds of Curiosity spotting a life form as colorful or musical as Bowie remain low.

3. MOONDUST CAN BE DANGEROUS.

In 1996, Bowie reflected on extraterrestrial love in a heavier song, "Hallo Spaceboy," which he once referred to as sounding like "metal Doors." But his lyrics about moondust covering the spaceboy point to an actual problem—all of the dust covering the moon presents a complication for astronauts who may one day return. NASA pathologist Russell Kerschmann has explained that lunar dust is very similar to Earth's silica dust, which is often hazardous to construction workers. Luckily, MIT engineers have been working on a space tent that would help explorers keep dust at bay if NASA ever decides to return to the Moon.

4. ALL MOVEMENT IN SPACE IS ITS OWN KIND OF DANCE.

Like so many basic activities, dancing in zero gravity can be much harder than on Earth. Though astronauts can pull off some sweet moves like slow-motion somersaults and never-ending spins that any ballerina would be jealous of, the idea of busting any quick, rhythmic moves is basically out of the question. But, as Bowie suggested when singing "girl, you move like water" in 2013, astronaut Mae Jemison has discussed how her childhood background as a dancer helped her with the physical requirements and coordination needed to navigate the tight quarters of a space shuttle.

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January 11, 2016 - 8:10am
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