February 10, 2011

Astronaut Creates ‘Little World With Music’ In Orbit

Astronaut musician Catherine Coleman played a few songs on her flute onboard the International Space Station (ISS) on Wednesday for TV and radio interviewers.

Coleman, the only flutist among the six-member space station crew, often listens to flute music in the background, occasionally playing along.

She has plenty of choices of instruments to play onboard the ISS, including her own personal flute, two belonging to the Irish group The Chieftains and another belonging to Ian Anderson with the band Jethro Tull.

"A pretty well-rounded spectrum, and I am having a great time up here with them," the AP quoted Coleman as saying.

On Wednesday, she played her songs on a flute belonging to the Chieftains' Paddy Moloney. 

Coleman, 50, said she hopes to team up with the Chieftains and Tull flutists for a space-to-ground concert before she leaves the space station in May.

Coleman, who has a doctorate degree in polymer science and engineering, has been onboard the space station since late December.  Part of her role as an astronaut, she said, is to share "how amazing it is up here and relate to different groups of people."

"I relate to flute players, and I just wanted them to understand what a cool place it was and how many possibilities there were to play music up here on the space station," she said.

Playing the flute is different in weightlessness, Coleman added, saying that she finds herself floating and bumping into objects as she plays with her eyes closed.

The acoustics on the ISS vary from room to room, she explained.  For instance, chambers padded with cloth bags absorb the sound, while the space station's window-enclosed observation deck allows for a much crisper sound.

It has been "pretty neat", she said, to create a "little world with music" in orbit.

Meanwhile, Astronaut Mark Kelly officially resumed training this week after nearly four weeks of leave to care for his wife, Representative Gabrielle Giffords, who was seriously wounded during a shooting in Tucson, Arizona last month.

Kelly will be in charge of the April flight of shuttle Endeavour.

Scott Kelly, the current space station commander and the twin brother of Mark, said he supported Mark's decision to return to shuttle training.

Separately, NASA officials said on Wednesday that they are checking the space shuttle Discovery for any damage that may have occurred after a measuring gauge was inadvertently dropped near the vehicle Tuesday night during repair work.

NASA spokeswoman Candrea Thomas said the tool came apart, and may have struck Discovery's external fuel tank as it fell.

Although the metal gauge was small and properly tethered to a worker, it broke apart and some pieces fell, Thomas said.

NASA is also working to replace a shuttle seal this week to prevent another hydrogen gas leak, which had caused the November launch of Discovery to be postponed until February. Fuel tank cracks also contributed to the lengthy delay.


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