Space Cowboys

NASA once briefly considered launching a boy band into space

Before Lance Bass, there was Natural.

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Back in 2002, it was announced that NSYNC member Lance Bass intended to launch into space as part of Russia’s Soyuz TMA-1 mission to the International Space Station. If you’ll recall, those intentions did not exactly come to fruition. While the idea of a single boy band member jettisoning into space sounds odd enough, apparently there were (very tentative) plans to send an entire pop group to the ISS even before Bass — it’s a tale as largely forgotten as the boy band involved.

The podcast Underunderstood and Motherboard recently recounted the entire strange saga, which involves a one-hit-wonder group called Natural, NASA itself, and the late, infamous boy band engineer, Lou Pearlman. While you obviously can guess how the plot resolved itself, the larger story is pretty peak early-2000s, and unfortunately takes a rather dark turn...

An image of Natural as murky as our memory of the musical

An unnatural marketing choice — According to the Underunderstood episode, an initial idea was actually put forth by NASA itself, and not cash-hungry LA record execs. Per an announcement in 2001, the space agency hoped to revitalize its stuffy government image by commissioning a new single from a lesser-known boy band called Natural, along with potential “further music projects including possibly a rap song, which Coolio may be asked to compose.” So yeah, let it be known: there is a timeline in which humanity was gifted a NASA-themed track from Coolio.

Things escalated quickly — Anyway. It wasn’t long before Natural’s manager, the godawful Lou Pearlman, began promising increasingly grandiose (possibly untrue) plans to the group. “...Pearlman started telling them they were going to write a song for NASA and they were going to have their band logo on the side of a rocket,” recounts Motherboard. “And then he told them that NASA wanted them to train to go to space and be the first musicians to perform at the International Space Station.” This even reportedly included the agency researching whether or not musicians could actually play stringed instruments in zero gravity.

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A fiery end — Unfortunately, this is where things get a little dark. NASA continued to partner for a bit with Natural on earthbound events like astronaut afterparties and work event performances — at one point getting them to sing the national anthem for the January 16, 2003, launch of the ill-fated space shuttle Columbia...

So yeah. Upon Columbia’s tragic explosion upon reentry, NASA sorta closed up shop for a bit, which included ending any and all plans of sending a bunch of early-twenties pop heartthrobs into orbit. To everyone’s disappointment, Natural never even got a chance to record that space diddy. Sigh. What could have been...