- The Washington Times - Friday, June 4, 2004

There’s no accounting for taste, even in space.

The European Space Agency (ESA) announced yesterday that its Saturn-bound Huygens space probe is carrying an extra payload: along with six scientific instruments, the craft is also toting specially composed music that ESA stressed is “made in Europe.”

The ride, however, is distinctly American.

The Huygens is piggybacked aboard NASA’s Cassini spacecraft in a collaboration between ESA and the American space agency. The Cassini-Huygens project will reach Saturn on July 1 after a seven-year, 750-million-mile journey from Earth, with discoveries to be shared among 200 scientists around the globe.

The international nature has not deterred European enthusiasm for homegrown creativity, however.

“The purpose of putting music on the spacecraft is to strengthen the knowledge of ESA’s Huygens mission to Titan, by aiming to leave a trace of our humanity in the unknown,” the agency stated.

But there’s no Mozart here.

The selections consist of 12 minutes of edgy punk music themes entitled “Hot Time,” “Lalala,” “No Love” and “Bald James Dean” — composed by a pair of Frenchmen who have also worked for Amnesty International, among other organizations.

The tunes “reflect our will to embellish Earth and space with unconventional artistic projects … and disseminate dreams,” said Julien Civange, who wrote the themes with partner Louis Haeri.

Americans sent music into space aboard the Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft back in 1977, now 8 billion miles from the sun and the most distant human-made objects from Earth. Both spacecraft were equipped with gold-plated recorded disks containing earth sounds, cordial greetings in 55 languages and 26 selections of music, including Bach’s “Brandenburg Concerto,” and Beethoven’s “Fifth Symphony.”

The original sounds themselves can be heard at the official Voyager Web site (http://voyager.jpl.nasa.gov).

A NASA spokeswoman was puzzled over ESA’s announcement of the Huygens music.

“Did they upload it recently?” she asked yesterday.

NASA scientists were unavailable to comment.

According to ESA, however, the recordings were tucked into Huygens before it was launched with Cassini from the Kennedy Space Center in 1997. When and if the tunes will be played remains to be seen, though the composers say their work is “a message for potential extraterrestrial populations.”

The Huygens will have to sing solo, however.

After it arrives, the Cassini will stay in orbit over Saturn for four years. But the 703-pound probe will be jettisoned from the host craft next January, then coast to Titan, the largest of Saturn’s 31 moons.

“About two hours after entering Titan’s atmosphere, the probe will land near the moon’s equator. If Huygens survives the impact, the probe might be able to communicate with the spacecraft for a few minutes after landing,” the NASA Web site notes.

ESA has an extra take on it, though.

“This will be the furthest distance at which human-made sounds will have landed on another celestial body,” the agency states.

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