When NASA astronaut Cady Coleman blasted off into space, up to the International Space Station orbiting some 200 miles above Earth, she brought music with her — music with several famous pedigrees.
In addition to bringing her own personal flute, Coleman brought a pennywhistle from Paddy Moloney of The Chieftains, an old Irish flute from Matt Malloy of The Chieftains and a flute from Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull.
In an Earth-to-space interview, All Things Considered host Melissa Block asks what it's like to play a flute and experience weightlessness.
"It's just really different," Coleman says. "I've been having the nicest time up in our Cupola — it's a module that has windows all the way around. I just float around in there and play with my eyes closed. What's really funny to me is that I'll suddenly run into something that [I] had no idea was so close. It's neat to float around and not know quite where you are, but still be creating your own little world with music."
Coleman says the acoustics depend on the module, but she prefers the Cupola because nobody can hear her in other parts of the large space station. Commander Scott Kelly says this interview was only the second time he'd seen or heard Coleman play.
Kelly is the brother-in-law of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head last month. Given that he's so far away, Block asks how that adds to the difficulty of helping his family deal with the trauma of the incident.
"You know, I think it'd be hard being anywhere — being in an isolated environment presents its own special difficulties," Kelly says. "We have telephone and e-mail. There's the ability to communicate, to be able to support my brother and Gabby in person. But I understand that this is my place and I've got a job to do, so I'm getting along fine."
Block asks Kelly if he has a different perspective on the shootings.
"If you were to ask me that right when this happened, I probably would have said yes," Kelly says. "But I think now, after time has passed, I would say probably not. Certainly, my life has changed up here since the accident. I used to, in my spare time, look out the window and [take] pictures of the Earth. Now I spend more of my spare time on the telephone and with e-mail and following the news than I did before this tragedy."
Kelly is due to return to earth next month. His twin brother Mark Kelly — Congresswoman Giffords' husband — is slated to command his own shuttle flight in April.