NASA's Mars rover, Curiosity, captivated our world when it touched down on the surface of the red planet on Aug. 6, completing the first stage of a mission that began with a November 2011 launch. Then, on Tuesday, NASA teamed up with Black Eyed Peas singer will.i.am to add a strange new bullet point to Curiosity's mission checklist: The broadcast debut of the singer's new single "Reach for the Stars" — live from the surface of Mars. (Listen to the song below.) Here's what you should know about this odd musical release:
Did NASA really play a will.i.am song on Mars?
Sort of. Martians wouldn't have been able to rock out to will.i.am's premiere, since Curiosity has no speakers, reports Space.com. Instead, the rover used its built-in technology to "transmit the song via radio waves back to Earth," where it was received by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. Interested earthlings were also invited to catch the live broadcast on NASA's website.
Are critics giving NASA a hard time for this?
Yes. Many have questioned NASA's decision to use Curiosity — its biggest accomplishment in years — to boost will.i.am, who released a special "Mars edition" of the single to commemorate its broadcast. "How can this be anything but a stunt?" asks Natalie Zutter of Crushable. "The dual agendas going on here are so glaringly obvious." The unusual debut of "Reach for the Stars" is just a way to cash in on the growing idea that "geek is chic," and NASA's decision to partner with the wildly popular artist represents "mainstream appeal over actual passion." On Twitter, will.i.am deflected criticism by explaining that proceeds from the "Reach for the Stars" single, which costs $1.29 on iTunes, will be used to help bring science-oriented STEM schools to inner cities.
And what exactly was will.i.am's angle?
Though the Black Eyed Peas frontman is primarily known for his music (and his unusually punctuated name), he also has a well-documented fascination with science, notes Damon Poeter at PC Magazine. The singer's i.am.angel foundation, which aims to "trans4m lives through education, inspiration, and opportunity," recently partnered with NASA and Discovery Education "to push a new science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics initiative" based around NASA's probes. And that's not his only science cred; in 2011, will.i.am was named Intel's "director of creative innovation." He has also "participated in the FIRST Robotics Competition" for high school students.
Okay. So what is this song about?
"Reach for the Stars" opens by asking, "Why do they say the sky is the limit when we have footprints on the moon?" says the New York Daily News. The song doubles as a political statement by will.i.am: The singer "put together an orchestra to pump up the song and has a children's choir singing a verse," which he included to highlight his belief that "more resources need to be devoted to science and technology education so young people can have these skills in the future." During the broadcast, will.i.am suggested that the song served as a fitting memorial to Neil Armstrong — the original man who "reached for the stars."
Have a listen: