The unusual premiere speaks to Will.i.am’s larger initiative to inspire students and young people to cultivate an interest in science. At the JPL event, the artist, born William James Adams Jr., also announced a partnership between his i.am.angel Foundation and digital resource provider Discovery Education for a program called i.am.STEAM, intended to bring science, technology, engineering, art and math (or STEAM) to K-12 classrooms around the country.
Will.i.am isn’t the first musician whose music cracked Earth’s atmosphere. The Voyager deep-space probes, launched in 1977, house a copy of Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode,” for instance, but Will.i.am became the first to have a song on Mars. He initially connected with NASA after buying a $5 million time block on ABC for the back-to-school one-hour TV special “i.am.FIRST-Science Is Rock and Roll” last August. (The special was filmed at the 2011 FIRST Robotics Championships for kids.) After the show, NASA administrator Charlie Bolden was piqued by Will.i.am’s educational initiative, inviting him to attend the Curiosity launch at Cape Canaveral in November and putting in motion the idea to beam an original song on a 708 million mile round trip between Earth and Mars.