Discuss as:

Listen to the first song from Mars

The Black Eyed Peas' will.i.am discusses his love of technology, space and the premiere of his new single "Reach for the Stars," which was broadcast from the Mars rover Curiosity.


Hip-hop musician will.i.am's "Reach for the Stars" officially became the first song broadcast from Mars today, thanks to a signal beamed from NASA's Curiosity rover.

"This is the first time that a song's ever come from another planet," Leland Melvin, NASA's associate administrator for education and a former astronaut, told students at an educational event at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

On one level, the song's airing at JPL was as much of an audio and photo op as Monday's broadcast of a statement from NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, which represented "the first human voice broadcast from Mars." But on another level, the blend of space exploration and pop culture fueled the already-high interest in Curiosity's $2.5 billion mission on Mars.


"Mars has always fascinated us, and the things Curiosity tells us about it will help us learn about whether or not life was possible there, and what future human explorers can expect," Bolden said in a NASA statement. "Will.i.am has provided the first song on our playlist of Mars exploration." 

Inspiring the next generation
The event was also aimed at inspiring the next generation of explorers, engineers and scientists: Among the listeners in the JPL audience were students from Boyle Heights — the L.A. suburb where will.i.am, one of the stars of the Black Eyed Peas, grew up.

"I'm a little nervous, because my mom's in the audience," will.i.am joked. He said he wanted to inspire the kids in his old neighborhood "so that you guys don't ever think about leaving it, but changing it."

Believe it or not, this isn't the first time people tried to have a song broadcast from Mars. The European Space Agency arranged for its Beagle 2 lander to transmit a tune recorded by the British rock group Blur as the first signal confirming that spacecraft's safe landing in 2003. Unfortunately, that lander went out of contact during its descent and was never heard from again.

This time, the experiment worked.

Musician will.i.am tells the story behind "Reach for the Stars," the first song broadcast from another planet.

Well after Curiosity's successful landing on Aug. 5, "Reach for the Stars" was uploaded to the rover's onboard computer and then transmitted back to NASA's Deep Space Network antennas on Earth. Flight director Bobak Ferdowsi, who has achieved Internet fame in his own right as "NASA Mohawk Guy," cued up the four-minute audio clip at the appointed time today. The rover wasn't broadcasting in real time: There's currently a nearly 15-minute communication gap for Curiosity's communications, due to the time it takes radio signals to travel the roughly 166 million miles (267 million kilometers) between Earth and Mars.

How the song got started
Will.i.am said the Mars Curiosity project had its genesis in "i.am.FIRST," an ABC-TV special on robotics and science education that he helped fund for broadcast last year. As a result of the success of that program, Bolden asked will.i.am to become involved in NASA's educational outreach program, and in response, the musician asked whether the space agency had anything special coming up.

"He said, 'We have a rocket going to Mars,'" will.i.am recalled. "So I said, 'Hey, have you ever thought about putting a song on the rocket, so when the rocket lands, the song comes back to Earth?' That's never happened before. So he said, 'Who's gonna do the song?' I said, 'Are you serious? Damn!'"

The musician said he intentionally went with an orchestral sound (with a 40-piece ensemble) instead of the usual hip-hop or dance beat. "I didn't want to do a song that was done on a computer," he said. "I wanted to show human collaboration ... and something that would be timeless, and translated in different cultures."

Will.i.am said the point of the song wasn't just about spaceflight.

"It's a reminder that anything is possible if you discipline yourself, and dedicate yourself and stand for something," he said. "Every single person that's a part of NASA stood for something, and we have this wonderful technology — the phone you have in your hand, and small computers. If it wasn't for their discipline and their relentless research and efforts, we wouldn't have these small computers. We don't have to just end up in the 'hood. But it's a hard thing. The hardest thing is discipline. Everything else is easy."

During today's event, the musician's i.am angel Foundation and Discovery Education announced a $10 million classroom education initiative focusing on STEAM themes (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics). NASA said the Discovery Education initiative will incorporate content from the space agency and space exploration themes as part of its curriculum. The initiative will aim to reach 25 million students annually.

Lyrics for 'Reach for the Stars,' courtesy of KillerHipHop.com

Why they say the sky is the limit
When I’ve seen the footprints on the moon
Why do they say the sky is the limit
When I’ve seen the footprints on the moon
And I know the sky might be high
But baby it ain’t really that high
And I know that Mars might be far
But baby it ain’t really that far
Let’s reach for the stars

Reach for the stars
Let’s reach for the stars
Reach for the stars
Let’s reach for the stars
Reach for the stars
Let’s reach for the stars

(Let, let, let, let me see your hands up)
(Let me see your hands up)

Can’t nobody hold us back
They can’t hold us down
They can’t keep us trapped
Tie us to the ground
Told your people that
We don’t mess around
When we turn it up
Please don’t turn us down
We will turn it up
Louder than we were before
Like the lion out the jungle, you can hear us roar
When I lie in here, it’s like a sonic blaster
Flying just like NASA, out of space master

Hands up, reach for the sky
Hands up, get ‘em up high
Hands up, if you really feel alive
Live it up, live it up

Why they say the sky is the limit
When I’ve seen the footprints on the moon
Why do they say the sky is the limit
When I’ve seen the footprints on the moon
And I know the sky might be high
But baby it ain’t really that high
And I know that Mars might be far
But baby it ain’t really that far
Let’s reach for the stars

Reach for the stars
Let’s reach for the stars
Reach for the stars
Let’s reach for the stars
Reach for the stars
Let’s reach for the stars

Extra credit: So what's the first song broadcast from the moon? Could it really be "I Was Strolling on the Moon One Day," performed live by Harrison Schmitt and Gene Cernan in 1972?

More about the Curiosity mission:


Alan Boyle is NBCNews.com's science editor. Connect with the Cosmic Log community by "liking" the log's Facebook page, following @b0yle on Twitter and adding the Cosmic Log page to your Google+ presence. To keep up with Cosmic Log as well as NBCNews.com's other stories about science and space, sign up for the Tech & Science newsletter, delivered to your email in-box every weekday. You can also check out "The Case for Pluto," my book about the controversial dwarf planet and the search for new worlds.