On May 18, 1969, Tom Stafford, John Young and Gene Cernan lifted off from Pad 39B of the Kennedy Space Center launch complex. Their next stop was the Moon. Their mission was the final "dress rehearsal" for the Saturn V, the Apollo spacecraft and the lunar module in lunar orbit prior to humans actually landing on the Moon.
The trip to lunar orbit would take three days of coasting in deep space. Although the crew remained busy during the Translunar Coast (TLC) phase of their mission, there were down times between chores. The crew had a special creation from home to occupy them during lulls in the flight in the form of a contemporary popular music cassette tape that was recorded with the help of a friend.
The RCA cassette tape was recorded by Al Bishop, who was an employee of Boeing at the time. According to Gene Cernan, he and Al laid on the Al’s living room floor and recorded all the songs onto the cassette. Gene and Al recorded several of the more popular musical artists of the day. Artists like Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and The Brothers Four were included on the tape. Mr. Bishop chose songs like "Fly Me to the Moon", "Going Back to Houston" and "Moonlight Serenade" to provide a theme befitting a flight to the Moon. Gene had pretty good taste for the popular music of the time.
By the time Apollo 10 launched for it’s rendezvous with the Moon, NASA had begun to realize that the agency had to do a better job of public relations concerning their task of placing humans on the Moon. The crew of Apollo 10 lead the way by pioneering the use of a color tv camera on their mission. They used props and they also used music. During the first public TV broadcast while on the way to the Moon, the crew showed TV images of the Earth. During the boardcast of those Earthly images, they took time to remind Mission Control of their real job. After Gene Cernan reminded the MOCR crew of their task, he switched on the cassette recorder and played Frank Sinatra's rendition of “Fly Me to the Moon.”
After their return to Earth, the Apollo X crew visited the command module, "Charlie Brown" while on the recovery aircraft carrier, USS Princeton. The following photograph shows Gene, John and Tom standing beside the command module hatch inside the hanger deck of the aircraft carrier. The image shows Gene carrying a clear plastic bag in his left hand. Inside the bag is the cassette tape.
The cassette tape can be more clearly seen in the enlargement, shown below, of the prior photograph.
When the crew returned to Houston, they designed and had constructed a presentation plaque with the actual music cassette. Tom, John and Gene presented it to Al Bishop as gift of gratitude for providing them with some entertainment during their trip to the Moon. When Mr. Bishop passed away, his widow gave it back to Gene Cernan. Gene kept it in his collection for a number of years before parting with it himself.
In the photograph shown above, Gene is displaying the tape presentation while at his home in Texas.
Gene wrote a brief certification "Flown on Apollo X" on the reverse side of the presentation plaque. He signed the plaque using Eugene A. Cernan. Which indicates that Gene signed the artifact when he first started identifying his collection as he only uses Gene Cernan now. I learned that from Gene in December of 2005 during our visit together in Tucson.
In August of 2006, Gene told me that he and Al Bishop spent the afternoon lying on the floor of Al's living room recording all the music on this tape. The quality of the tape reflects that type of early private recording with miscues, skips and clicks that an older record album would make on a turntable. That is what makes the tape so good for historic purposes. These two men took the time to sit, choose and record music for a flight to the Moon.
I was able to gently open the display and extract the tape from the display. After 37 years, the tape still functioned. The music was downloaded into my computer. A compact disk was burned of the music and presented to Gene for his listening pleasure.
Every once in a while I put on my copy of the CD and listen to Frank Sinatra sing "Fly me to the Moon" and know that in this particular case the song really did journey to the Moon.
It took sound time to track down the song titles and the artists, but a playlist of the song tracks has been put together.
"Going back to Houston" performed by Dean Martin
"Fly me to the Moon" performed by Frank Sinatra
"Come fly with Me" performed by Frank Sinatra
"Up, Up and Away" performed by Andy Williams
"Something Stupid" performed by Frank and Nancy Sinatra
"Sentimental Journey" performed by Acker Bilk
"Greensleeves" performed by Acker Bilk
"Stranger on the Shore" performed by Acket Bilk
"Welcome to my World" performed by Dean Martin
"Little Old Wine Drinker Me" performed by Dean Martin
"30 More Miles to San Diego" performed by Dean Martin
"Moonlight Serenade" performed by Frank Sinatra
"When I fall in Love" performed by Eartha Kitt
"Unforgettable" performed by Eartha Kitt
"Green Fields" performed by The Brothers Four
"Rock Island Line" performed by The Brothers Four
"Summertime" performed by The Brothers Four
"Oh Shenandoah" performed by The Brothers Four
"A Very Good Year" performed by The Brothers Four
"Honey Wind" performed by The Brothers Four
"The Waves Roll Out" performed by The Brothers Four
"It's Over" performed by Dinah Shore
"Trains and Boats and Planes" performed by Dinah Shore
"Days of Wine and Roses" performed by Dinah Shore
"Oh Lonesome Me" performed by Dinah Shore
"I Really Don't Want to Know" performed by Dinah Shore
"Born to Lose" performed by Dinah Shore
"Little White Lies" performed by Dinah Shore
Most of the individual artists had passed away prior to my research into their music, but I was able to get in touch with one of the remaining artists. As I was researching the musical pieces on the tape cassette I found three clarinet instrumentals towards the middle of the album. While the songs and arrangements were familiar, but I could not remember the musician's name at the time. While watching an "infomercial" about 1960s popular music, I found out that the clarinet player, composer and arranger of those melodies was a gentleman by the name of Acker Bilk. Mr. Bilk resided in England until he passed away in November, 2014 at age 85.
I contacted Acker Bilk in 2005 via his website
and told him the story of his music going to the Moon. Mr. Bilk enthusiastically requested a copy of the CD that I had produced from the tape. Gene Cernan remembered Acker Bilk's music and his hit single "Stranger on the shore."
It is always interesting to uncover stories that relate to an artifact such as this unique tape cassette. What makes this cassette so unique is that it contains a number of artists, musical genres, types and arrangements. The musical scores range from easy listening, popular vocals to folk songs and demonstrate that the astronauts had eclectic tastes in music.
It is nice to know that even lunar voyagers liked some music while "on the road" to the Moon.