It was December 1965 and the crews
of Gemini 6 and 7 had just completed the first rendezvous between two
spacecraft, a critical step on the way to the Moon. Shortly after the two
spacecraft separated, the following exchange took place among Walter M. “Wally” Schirra and Thomas P. Stafford aboard Gemini
6, Frank Borman and James A. Lovell aboard Gemini 7
and Elliott M. See, the Capsule Communicator (Capcom) in mission control in
Gemini 6: We have an object.
It looks like a satellite going from north to south, up in a polar orbit. He's
in a very low trajectory, traveling from north to south. It has a very high
[fineness] ratio. It looks like it might be [inaudible]. It's very low; it
looks like he might be going to re-enter soon. Stand by, One. It looks like
he's trying to signal us. [Stafford and Schirra play “Jingle Bells.”]
Gemini 7: We got him,
Gemini 6: That was live,
Seven, not taped.
Houston: You’re too much, Six.
If you listen to the audio of the
conversation, you can hear the sounds of an eight-note Hohner "Little Lady" harmonica and a handful of small bells, the first musical
instruments played in outer space. oth
are on display at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum
(NASM) in Washington, D.C.
The first musical instruments played in space: a Hohner
harmonica (left) and a set of bells (right). Photos courtesy of the NASM.
Left: Aleksandr Ivanchenko plays the acoustic guitar aboard
Salyut-6. Middle: McNair on the soprano sax in Challenger’s middeck. Right:
Flautist Ellen Ochoa on Discovery’s flight
As spacecraft grew larger and
missions longer, the size and sophistication of musical instruments in orbit increased.
Many astronauts and cosmonauts were accomplished musicians, bringing their
talents to orbit. Although music from the instruments sounded the same in space
as on the ground, playing them in weightlessness provided the musicians with
challenges unique to each instrument. The first acoustic guitar in space is
believed to have been aboard the Soviet Salyut-6 space station, first played by
Aleksandr I. Ivanchenko in 1978.
Guitars have provided musical
psychological support for crew members aboard space stations ever since. Ronald
A. McNair played a soprano saxophone during Space Shuttle Challenger’s STS-41B mission in 1984. Space limitations in the shuttle
precluded flying McNair’s favorite tenor sax, so he learned to play the smaller
version of the instrument for his spaceflight. Once on orbit, McNair
encountered unexpected effects of weightlessness: the water that normally
accumulates inside wind instruments on Earth resulted instead in unwanted
bubbly effects. The shuttle cabin’s dry air also had unwanted effects on the
instrument’s felt and leather pads, requiring several minutes of “rehydration”
before proper playing. Ellen L. Ochoa had to use
foot restraints while she played her flute aboard Discovery during STS-56 in 1993 as part of an education
demonstration. The small air current coming from the flute exerted enough force
to impart translation motions on her.
Left: Aleksandr Laveykin (left) and Yuri Romanenko during Mir
Expedition 2 in 1987. Middle: Thomas Reiter (left) and Chris Hadfield aboard
Mir during the STS-74 mission in 1995. Right: Mikhail Tyurin (left) on guitar
and Carl Walz on keyboard in the Zvezda module during the STS-108 mission in 2002.
Image Credits: NASA
Russian space psychologists
realized that playing music on orbit improved the well-being of cosmonauts on
long-duration missions and ensured that an acoustic guitar made it aboard Mir
as early as possible. Cosmonauts Yuri V.
Romanenko and Aleksandr I. Laveykin enjoyed strumming the strings during Mir’s
second expedition in 1987, as did many cosmonauts throughout the space
station’s lifetime. During STS-74, the second Shuttle-Mir docking mission in
1995, Canadian astronaut Chris A. Hadfield brought along a specially modified collapsible
SoloEtte guitar that he donated to
the Mir 20 crew aboard at the time, after recording a duet with ESA (European
Space Agency) astronaut Thomas A. Reiter. The guitar stayed on Mir until June
1998, when it returned to Earth on STS-91 after 942 days in space.
Following the example set aboard
Mir, psychologists concerned with the well-being of crew members aboard the
International Space Station included musical instruments as part of the overall
support program. The August 2001 STS-105 mission, in addition to launching the
Expedition 3 crew, brought the first musical instrument — an acoustic guitar — to
the station. An electronic keyboard accompanied the Expedition 4 crew to orbit
in December of that year aboard STS-108. Expedition 3 Flight Engineer Mikhail V.
Tyurin and Expedition 4 Flight Engineer Carl E. Walz played an impromptu
concert for their crewmates.
Left: Edward Lu (right) plays the keyboard. Middle: Cady
Coleman with two of the four flutes she brought to station. Right: Don Pettit
plays his homemade didgeridoo. Image Credits: NASA
Many crew members on station enjoy
playing the instruments already provided; others brought their own that suited
their playing habits best; others yet made their own while in orbit. Edward T. “Ed”
Lu, during Expedition 7 in 2003, provided his own rendition of Ludwig
van Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata on
the station’s electronic keyboard. Astronaut and flautist Catherine G. “Cady”
Coleman brought four flutes to the orbiting laboratory during Expeditions 26
and 27. In 2011, she played a duet with
Ian Anderson, flautist and front
man for Jethro Tull, while aboard station
as Anderson, on Earth, was on tour in Perm, Russia. As one of his private
science experiments, during Expedition 30/31 in 2012, Donald R. Pettit built a didgeridoo, an Australian
aborigine wind instrument, from a vacuum cleaner hose and with the help of
Daniel C. Burbank to demonstrate how the sound waves emanating from the end of
the instrument disturb droplets of water.
Left: Soichi Noguchi
(left) plays the ryuteki, and Naoko Yamazaki plays the koto, in the Kibo module. Image Credits: NASA
Marking the first time that two astronauts from the Japan
Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) met in space, in April 2010, Expedition 23
Flight Engineer Soichi Noguchi and STS-131 Mission Specialist Naoko Yamazaki
performed a musical duet of the traditional Japanese song “Sakura, Sakura” (Cherry
Blossoms), using the JAXA Kibo
module’s airlock as a stage. Noguchi
opened the performance on the ryuteki
(a bamboo flute) he had brought along for his five-and-a-half-month mission, and
then switched to the electronic keyboard to accompany Yamazaki
playing on a koto. Normally
six feet long, Yamazaki had a miniature version of the stringed instrument made
for her spaceflight, which changed the quality of its sound.
Left: Hadfield strums the guitar in the cupola. Right: Composite
of Luca Parmitano on keyboard aboard station (left) and Didier Marouani on keyboard in Moscow. Image Credits: NASA
Shortly before returning from his
six-month Expedition 34/35 in 2013, Hadfield recorded his
version of David Bowie’s 1969 hit “Space
Oddity.” He announced this first-ever video shot on space station on Twitter
and posted it to Youtube, where it has received more than 45 million views. Responding
on social media, Bowie called Hadfield’s cover "possibly
the most poignant version of the song ever created."
On June 29, 2013, one month into his six-month
mission as Expedition 36/37 flight engineer, ESA astronaut Luca S. Parmitano took part in a concert by French
musician Didier Marouani and his band spAce
playing in Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium. Watched by fellow crew members Fyodor N. Yurchikhin
and Karen L. Nyberg, Parmitano played the station’s electronic keyboard while
the band, including Yurchikhin’s 11-year-old daughter Elena as a guest
performer, played the song “Magic Fly.”
Left: Kjell Lindgren
plays the bagpipe in the Kibo module.
Right: Thomas Pesquet with his birthday present, an alto sax. Image Credits:
The honor of being the first to
play bagpipes in space belongs to NASA astronaut Kjell N. Lindgren. In November
2015 during Expedition 45, Lindgren played “Amazing Grace” on the pipes, which were custom made for him by McCallum
Bagpipes in Scotland to pay tribute to his friend research scientist Victor W. Hurst,
who had suddenly passed away.
For his 39th birthday in 2017, ESA astronaut Thomas G. Pesquet’s
Expedition 50 crewmates surprised him with an alto saxophone
that they had conspired to be delivered to the station, somehow managing to
keep hidden from him. The sax remains aboard to this day, and astronauts
occasionally take it out for a spin.
A jam session comes
together on station. Far right: AstroHawaii jamming session aboard station with
(left to right) Drew Feustel, Oleg Artemyev, Ricky Arnold, Anton Shkaplerov and
Scott Tingle. Image Credits: NASA
What do you get when you put several musicians in a room
together with an array of instruments? A jam session! It’s true, even on
station. Calling themselves AstroHawaii,
in April 2018 the crew of Expedition 55 took a break from their regular work to
hold a zero-g jam session, with NASA astronauts Andrew J. “Drew” Feustel and Scott
D. “Maker” Tingle on guitars, Russian cosmonauts Oleg G. Artemyev on the pan
flute and Anton N. Shkaplerov on the Irish flute, and NASA astronaut Richard R.
“Ricky” Arnold on the drum (actually a Russian KTO solid waste container). No
recording is known to exist of this epic jam session.
Left: Alexander Gerst,
playing his iPad, is projected behind Kraftwerk in Stuttgart. Right: Parmitano is projected onto a large screen as he
DJs a cruise ship party. Image Credits: NASA
Expedition 56 flight engineer Alexander Gerst, an ESA
astronaut, took music on station to nerd level off-scale high. In July 2018, he
participated in a concert taking place in Stuttgart, Germany, with
pioneering electronic band Kraftwerk.
Jamming live on their 1978 song “Spacelab,” Gerst
used an iPad loaded with a touch-control app backed by synthesizer
software, configured by Kraftwerk’s
Henning Schmitz and coordinated with ESA, who manifested the iPad on a SpaceX
Kicking it up another notch, Parmitano
became the first person to DJ a party from space. In August 2019 during
Expedition 60, using the name DJ Astro Luca, he played a 12-minute set from
ESA’s Columbus module using an iPad loaded
with DJ software to 3,000 party-goers on a cruise ship anchored at the Spanish island
of Ibiza in the Mediterranean Sea.
Left: Jessica Meir
plays her high school piccolo. Right: Meir on sax in the cupola. Image Credits:
During a TV hookup with school kids from her hometown of
Caribou, Maine, in November 2019 Expedition 61 Flight Engineer Jessica U. Meir
played the “Star Wars” theme on her high school band piccolo. In
addition to piccolo, Meir also played flute and saxophone as a child, so it was
only natural that she would take the alto sax aboard station out for a spin
before returning to Earth in April 2020.
The International Space Station — taking music to new heights. Image