Eppes Defies Gravity, Grabbing Third

Published 4:26 pm Tuesday, May 10, 2011

DARLINGTON HEIGHTS – It doesn't take a rocket scientist to expect the two winning songs in NASA's contest to wake up the space shuttle astronauts on Endeavour to be “Sunrise Number 1” and “Dreams You Give.”

But credit “Rocket Scientist” for launching local musician and potter Tray Eppes into the top three out of 1,350 original songs in the international (the top song is from Spain) competition.

And he's still feeling rather happily weightless about the whole experience, which may conclude next week when a twice-delayed Endeavour finally lifts off, ending the online voting.

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“The NASA contest has provided an opportunity for the people who appreciate what I do to show their appreciation,” Eppes told The Herald. “It was fun to talk about and to share some of these experiences. Folks have also shown a pride in this song from Virginia and, in particular Darlington Heights, being a small part of the NASA space program and potentially broadcast into space. It has all been very reassuring that I'm in the right place and I'm doing the right thing.”

Gravity hasn't brought Eppes down at all.

“Sunrise Number 1” has over 48 percent of the balloting, with over 700,000 votes, while “Dreams You Give” has nearly 40 percent, or nearly 600,000 votes.

Eppes' “Rocket Scientist” has steadily held on to third place for more than a month and currently has nearly seven percent of the vote, or over 100,000 votes.

Nobody else in the final top ten is close.

“This contest has been a surprisingly consuming endeavor,” Eppes reflected. “The first day, when “Rocket Scientist” was in first place, I received a call from Andrea Berry with NBC News in Washington DC. They wanted permission to use the song in their coverage of the NASA contest and wanted to know how to pronounce my name. That was my first clue that there may be more to participating in this contest than I had imagined. My wife made a joke about the TV trucks showing up and then two days later the ABC TV truck showed up.”

Eppes said that when “we saw how the voting was going, a number of my friends and acquaintances took up the cause and started a campaign to get people to vote for “Rocket Scientist” and vote multiple times. The reality that so many people were taking their time to vote and promote this song, made my daily pottery routine seem meaningless. If other folks were going to be working on this “get out the vote” project, I should work on it too.”

The wake-up song quickly developed over the years as a NASA tradition and family members of the astronauts normally picked the daily tune for the musical alarm clock.

NASA decided on a change of pace for Endeavour's final mission and it was NASA personnel who narrowed the contest field down to the final top ten out of the 1,350 entries.

Ironically, “Rocket Scientist” was inspired by a real rocket scientist.

“I have a large group of friends that play music in Tidewater, all over, but there's a large group of them in Tidewater. One of them, Kelly Murphy, works for NASA and is a rocket scientist,” Eppes told The Herald of the song's origins. “She does trajectory and wind tunnel tests on her laptop.

“She's just brilliant. She's beautiful, she sings and plays. We play music together,” he continues, but it took a mutual friend to see the song potential of a rocket scientist.

“I write songs about my dog, about cooking," Eppes said, and his friend, he recalls, pointed out to him, “Tray, you've got a friend who's a rocket scientist. You've got to write a song.'”

“Rocket Scientist” appeared on Eppes' 2005 CD It's No Act.

And the rocket scientist, herself, urged Eppes to enter the NASA contest.

“Kelly, the rocket scientist, emailed me and said, 'Have you seen this (the NASA contest)? How perfect is your song?'” she asked him about “Rocket Scientist.”

Perfect enough to finish in the top three.

(To vote, log on to: https://songcontest.nasa.gov/toporig.aspx. The contest will remain open until Endeavour actually launches. That may happen on May 16 but two other scheduled launch dates have been scrubbed)