Forget the Hollywood Bowl or Lincoln Center. The space age has opened a new venue for rock music, jazz, even a brief rumble or two from a homemade didgeridoo – the International Space Station, whirring vent fans and all.
And you thought it was just an orbiting national lab!
Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield is the latest in a line of astronauts dating back to the NASA's Gemini program in the 1960s to display considerable musical talent in space.
On the eve of his departure from the station Monday, the lanky, guitar-plucking Canadian unveiled a slick rendition of David Bowie's "Space Oddity," Major Tom's launch and farewell to Earth – the first rock-music video sung and shot in space.
Back in December 1965, the duo treated ground controllers to a rendition of Jingle Bells as their Gemini 6A capsule orbited Earth. Schirra played a tiny, eight-holed harmonica, and Stafford had the sleigh bells – both instruments cosmic contraband at the time because space was so tight in the two-seat capsule. The Smithsonian Institution has dubbed the event the first live-music performance in space.
These days, the ISS boasts an electronic keyboard, and crew members are free to have small instruments sent up – from guitars and flutes to saxophones. It's all in the name of crew morale. Crew members spend six-month stints on the station. With down time from about midday Saturdays through Sundays, the crew has time to keep honed whatever musical skills they bring along.
And if you don't have an instrument? Cobble one together. During his most recent tour on the ISS, which ended July 1, 2012, NASA astronaut Don Pettit needed a didgeridoo as part of a science demonstration involving sound waves and water droplets.
No 'doo? No worries. He commandeered a length of hose from the station's vacuum-cleaner system. Nothing, if not inventive, he. Dr. Pettit also is credited with inventing a stabilizer that takes the station's jitters out of photos the astronauts take from the station. He also crafted the first coffee cup the crew could use in microgravity that didn't require a straw.
Other noteworthy performances include NASA astronaut Cady Coleman's duet with Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson in February 2011 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin's historic mission as the first human to orbit the Earth. Dr. Coleman led off in zero G with Mr. Anderson performing his intricate riffs in 1 G.
But for sheer productivity and production values, Commander Hadfield is hard to beat. In "Space Oddity," he teams up with Emm Gryner, who was a member of Bowie's band for a couple of years. In her blog, she describes how the effort came about.
Nor is this the first time the crooning commander has collaborated with earthbound musicians. In February, he released a video complete with a youth chorus and musicians from the group Barenaked Ladies performing "I.S.S. (Is Somebody Singing)," a tune he and co-writer Ed Robertson began collaborating on while Hadfield was still training for the mission he leaves today.
But for raw impact, "Space Oddity" is hard to beat.
Just ask Mr. Bowie. After Hadfield's video appeared on the web, Bowie posted to his Facebook Page: "It’s possibly the most poignant version of the song ever created...."