Monday 25 September 2017

Astronaut gives 'space serenade'

Catherine Coleman and her flute aboard the International Space Station (AP)
Catherine Coleman and her flute aboard the International Space Station (AP)

Musical astronaut Catherine Coleman has plenty of flutes to pick from aboard the International Space Station.

One is her own. Two belong to members of the Irish group, The Chieftains. And one belongs to the flautist with the Jethro Tull band.

"A pretty well-rounded spectrum, and I am having a great time up here with them," Ms Coleman said.

On Wednesday, she played a couple tunes for radio and TV interviewers.

At the space station, Ms Coleman is the only flautist among the six-member crew. So while she prefers creating music with other people, she puts flute music on in the background and plays along whenever she has spare time.

The penny whistle she took up belongs to the Chieftains' Paddy Moloney. There's also an old Irish flute from the Chieftains' Matt Molloy and a flute belonging to Ian Anderson from Jethro Tull.

Coleman said part of her astronaut job 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.

Ms Coleman said it's different playing in weightlessness - she finds herself bumping into objects as she plays, floating, with her eyes closed. The acoustics, she said, vary from room to room. The chambers that are padded with cloth bags absorb the sound and aren't nearly as bright sounding as, for example, the space station's window-enclosed observation deck.

Ms Coleman, 50, who has a doctorate in polymer science and engineering, considers herself an amateur musician. She said it's been "pretty neat" creating her "own little world with music" in orbit. She hopes to team up with the Chieftains and Tull flautists for a space-to-ground concert before she returns to Earth in May.

She has been on the space station since just before Christmas.

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