The instrumental song "Contact Lost", the bittersweet finale of DEEP PURPLE's new album "Bananas", was inspired by the tragic loss of the Space Shuttle Columbia. It was written by guitarist Steve Morse.
Columbia broke up over Texas upon re-entry on February 1, 2003, after a successful 16-day scientific research mission. The accident claimed the lives of its seven crew members: commander Rick Husband, pilot Willie McCool, mission specialist Michael Anderson, mission specialist Dave Brown, mission specialist Laurel Clark, mission specialist Kalpana Chawla and payload specialist Ilan Ramon.
Morse, vocalist Ian Gillan, bass guitarist Roger Glover, drummer Ian Paice and keyboardist Don Airey were in the midst of recording "Bananas" when the disaster occurred.
Chawla, a native of India where DEEP PURPLE is extremely popular, loved the band. She traded e-mails with the band for several days while in space. Chawla took three CDs on board Columbia: DEEP PURPLE's landmark 1972 album "Machine Head" and 1996's "Purpendicular" and RAINBOW's 1978 album "Down to Earth" (Glover and Airey were both members of RAINBOW at the time).
While in space, Chawla liked to wake up to DEEP PURPLE's "Space Truckin' " from "Machine Head".
The band members were horrified and deeply saddened by Columbia's fate, and Morse immediately channeled his emotions into composing "Contact Lost" within one hour of the accident. Morse is donating his "Contact Lost" songwriting royalties to the families of the astronauts.
The CD copies of "Machine Head", "Purpendicular" and "Down to Earth" were found among the Columbia debris. NASA used them as part of special commemorative plaques honoring the seven astronauts. Chawla's widower, Jean-Pierre Harrison, has kept in touch with Morse and he presented the three plaques to DEEP PURPLE on stage at a concert on September 23, 2003, in Mexico City, Mexico (photo). The plan is to donate the "Machine Head" and "Down to Earth" plaques to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. The "Purpendicular" plaque is being kept privately.
"Bananas" was released by Sanctuary Records on October 7, 2003.