Before joining Queen, Brian May studied Astrophysics at Imperial College, London. He finally completed his dissertation in 2007. Here, the music veteran and astrophysics doctor combines his two interests by recording a track in tribute to the on-going NASA New Horizons mission.
NASA's New Horizons interplanetary space probe was launched on January 19, 2006 with the missions of performing a flyby of Pluto, and one or more other Kuiper belt objects (KBOs) on the edge of our solar system. (A flyby is when a space probe passes a planet or such like close enough to record scientific data).
The song was premiered on January 1, 2019 at NASA's control center at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Greenbelt, Maryland. Its premiere coincided with the farthest ever flyby by a man-made spacecraft in history. On that date the New Horizons spacecraft passed an object in the Kuiper Belt named Ultima Thune.
May said: "It was Alan Stern, the project instigator of this amazing NASA mission, who threw down the glove last May. He asked if I could come up with a theme for Ultima Thule which could be played as the NH probe reached this new destination. I was inspired by the idea that this is the furthest that the hand of man has ever reached. It will be by far the most distant object we have ever seen at close quarters, through the images which the space craft will beam back to earth. To me, it epitomizes the human spirit's unceasing desire to understand the universe we inhabit."
Brian May wrote the song with legendary UK lyricist Don Black, who has worked on the theme songs for many of the James Bond films.
The song also features words spoken by the late Stephen Hawking, congratulating the team on Horizon's triumphal Pluto flyby in 2015. It's not the first time a sample of the British theoretical physicist's synthesized voice has been used. He previously lent his voice synthesizer to the Pink Floyd tracks "Keep Talking
" and "Talkin' Hawkin'
The song marked Brian May's first solo release in over five years. In 2013, the guitar icon dropped "Save the Badger Badger Badger," which was recorded in response to proposed badger culling in the United Kingdom and peaked at #79 on the UK singles chart.
"New Horizons" also features contributions from longtime Meat Loaf drummer John Miceli.