Photo by Nik Kosieradzki
On Monday night, July 4, around the time that America lights up with the cracks of a million fireworks, NASA’s Juno spacecraft will enter Jupiter’s orbit. It’s a huge moment in space discovery and the culmination of years of work for NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Juno’s been cruising for five years now, hanging out in space, preparing for this moment. She’ll send back information on the solar system’s largest planet, its composition, clues as to how it was born, even the possibility for signs of life.
To honor this momentous occasion, NASA teamed up with Apple to put out two very different Juno-honoring songs yesterday. The first, Weezer’s “I Love the USA,” is a shamelessly patriotic tribute to Land of the Free and, kinda, space travel; the other, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s “Juno,” actually sounds as though it was written for space travel and not the montage at the end of the movie that will inevitably be based on this mission.
But what do we know? We’re the type of people who found the introductory Wikipedia paragraph on Juno a little complex. Space travel is supremely cool, but it’s also very complicated and involves lots of math and physics, probably. So rather than judge the songs ourselves, we spoke to Stu Pickell, a real life space dude who’s been working as a part of the Juno mission for a year for NASA and their Jet Propulsion Laboratory. He’ll will be spending July 4 maneuvering a goddamn spacecraft into Jupiter’s orbit. You’ll be drinking Budweiser America in a field or something.
His views on both of these songs are entirely his own. They do not reflect the views of NASA or the Jet Propulsion Laboratory who themselves may or may not have opinions on either of these songs. It’s hard to know.
Noisey: Before we play the track, what do you know about Weezer?
Stu Pickell: I mean, I love Pinkerton. I’ve listened to Pinkerton at least 200 times in my life probably. The Blue Album is tight. I'm just surprised they're still making music.
What was your reaction when you heard they were writing a song for the Juno mission? How did that make you feel? Did you swell with pride for your country and vocation?
I didn't know they were such patriots.
Same. So what do you make of this artwork? It sort of looks like the marble at Trump Tower.
They've got the Juno logo on there. It looks like several Jupiters stacked on top of each other which is cool
So do you think loving the Juno mission is in itself a statement of patriotism?
I like that they're legitimizing the expression of patriotism through space travel.
It’s sorta what made America great in the first place.
It really is. It may be the one thing that’s still truly great about America, in terms of government at least.
[Song turns on, swelling piano chords open up. Rivers Cuomo sings: “I love the USA / I love the USA! / Eff yeah this place is great…”]
Okay, let’s talk about what just happened, because, for a start i think he was trying to say “Fuck yeah this place is great,” but the clean version means he has to say “Eff yeah, this place is great."
But I really liked how Rivers Cuomo’s voice soars, much like a rocket.
Yeah, I was waiting for the rocket ride. I was getting those vibes but we’re not quite there yet. I’m anticipating a lift-off, but I’m hoping it’s more like drifting through space since that's kinda what’s going on right now.
[Song continues: “Stopped at The Coffee Bean…”]
What'd he say about Coffee Bean? I hate that we're getting conflated with shitty coffee shops.
So this is worth asking: how often do you get your coffee from The Coffee Bean?
There is one right down the street from my office, actually. So maybe once a month.
Sounds like Rivers Cuomo maybe did his research on the Juno mission and its details?
Seems like he might know what’s going on. He understands what fuels people on this mission.
[Song continues: “I love the USA! / I love the USA!”]
Not quite lift-off yet. The arpeggios in the back are pretty spacey, though. Sorta twinkling starlight.
[Cuomo: “God save the King.”]
What's that he wants God to save? The king? So far I don’t see anything very spacey about this. Is he making a reference to “God Save the King”? Is he making a reference to the King over the Queen? I don’t understand what he's saying there
Is that a spacey guitar solo to you?
Yes, but that's not NASA's opinion.
How much do you think Rivers Cuomo loves the USA? More or less than you? And remember that he wrote that guitar solo.
I love it more. I think his heart is still with that girl "Across the Sea." This song doesn't really say it to me despite him saying it like 30 times. I don't feel the passion.
So if you were writing a song for the Juno mission what would your chorus be like?
It'd be much angrier song. Juno is this wife going to spy on her husband who’s just chilling with all these moons named after his mistresses. At least I think some of them are named after his mistresses. I know none are named Juno.
So your ideal song would embody the feelings of Juno herself?
Coulda been. They could have gotten something off Lemonade. There wasn't much substance in this one.
Let's check out the Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross track. This one’s just called “Juno.”
Now we’re talking.
You seem to like this more than Weezer.
Much more. This sounds like what Juno is doing right now.
In what way?
Well, there’s too much physics behind how I'm thinking about it, but I guess it's reminiscent of the auroras of Jupiter.
So you've heard Jupiter?
Yeah! In a way you could say I've heard it. They've picked up radiation from Jupiter on the antennas, teased it out from Juno’s signal, so in that sense we've heard Jupiter.
Is it sound? Or something you see on a screen?
You could make it into sound, shift the frequencies, make an audio track of the microwave signals. They did it with the gravitational waves. When we talk to Juno on Monday we're going to be hearing tones. There's a constant frequency signal out of which there will be tones modulated. very low frequency, tones that if they were soundwaves they'd be in the audible range, less than 20000 hertz. So it almost sounds like those tones, the little blips and drops in the sounds that we'll be hearing on Monday when Juno talks to us to tell us that everything went alright. So it actually sounds a little bit like Juno’s voice, at least the voice we see at Deep Space Network. I like to imagine, if we’re going there, that that's what I'm hearing, that that's what the song is about. This song is much better, I don’t know why the fuck they'd include the Weezer song.
Do you think you'll be listening to this at some point on Monday?
I think I might take a few moments to myself, have a moment of silence with some headphones.
I guess afterwards is really the middle for you…
Afterwards is the beginning for me. Juno has been cruising for five years since launch in 2011. Starting after Monday, we'll be contacting more regularly.
Does this song capture the anger that Juno might feel?
Still doesn’t do it.
Still waiting for lift-off?
How do you feel going into Monday?
It's a pretty cool way to spend the holiday. I do love the USA. Might pick up a few mortars before that. This country is great.