Nursery Rhymes in Space

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This month, Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti broke the world record for the most time spent by a woman in space on a single mission: 200 days. From her post on the International Space Station she conducted space walks, supported her team on their sorties, was responsible for cargo and helped grab and dock ferries with the station’s robotic arm.

I first heard of this multilingual astronaut when a radio station broadcast a recording of her reciting “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” from outer space—a selection suggested by her social media followers.

I was so mesmerized by her dream-like reading that I stopped everything I was doing to listen. After reciting the nursery rhyme we all know, she then transitioned into the words of Iza Trapani, from her children’s book “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”. Here’s just one verse:

Out your window, through the sky,
Up above the world we'll fly.
Higher than a bird will go,
To places only rockets know.
Beyond the planes that soar up high,
Is where we'll travel, you and I.

Author-illustrator Trapani spoke only Polish when she came to the United States at the age of 7. Her relatives gave her a big book of Mother Goose nursery rhymes and she began to learn English as she read the poems.


So here we have an Italian astronaut—in space—reading a Polish woman’s version of an English lullaby, first published over two centuries ago, that is also featured on a Children’s Fairyland storybook box in Oakland. Such is the power of the humble nursery rhyme.

Working at a storybook theme park, I’ve come to appreciate the value of nursery rhymes. Rhyme and repetition is good for the brain, introducing literacy to kids. Nursery rhymes link cultures and generations: they are shared rituals. But perhaps most important of all, they are fun to say and hear. It was only a matter of time before they went galactic.

I like to think that the astronaut’s goodnight from space might inspire little girls to dream of bigger things—maybe even science-y things.

I think I’ve found a new shero—a most fascinating hitchhiker in the galaxy.

With a Perspective, I’m CJ Hirschfield.

CJ Hirschfield is executive director of Children’s Fairyland in Oakland.