Flutes In Space: Astronaut Plays Aboard Space Station She has a pennywhistle and an Irish flute from members of The Chieftains, plus a flute from Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull. NASA astronaut Cady Coleman says she plays the instruments while floating around in the International Space Station.

Flutes In Space: Astronaut Plays Aboard Space Station

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.


When NASA astronaut Cady Coleman blasted off into space, up to the International Space Station, she brought music with her, music with several famous pedigrees. Coleman is a flutist. She spoke with me from the space station, orbiting some 200 miles above the Earth, and told me what she has on board.

CADY COLEMAN: I have a pennywhistle from Paddy Moloney of The Chieftains and also a very old Irish flute from Matt Molloy of The Chieftains, and I have a flute from Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull.

BLOCK: Well, what is it like to play the flute and experience weightlessness? Is it easier? Is it harder?

COLEMAN: And what's really funny to me is that I'll suddenly sort of run into something and something you just had no idea was so close is right there at your nose. It's been pretty neat to just float around and not know quite where you are but still be creating your own little world with music.

BLOCK: That sounds great. What are the acoustics like up there?

COLEMAN: In other parts where we have a lot of cloth bags, it absorbs the sound, and it's not quite as bright sounding. But I've been trying to play module by module, and they all sound pretty good.

BLOCK: Well, I know, Cady Coleman, you have your flute. I'm not sure which flute you have there with you, but you have a flute with you. Why don't you tell us which one it is? And I wonder if you would play as out with a song.

COLEMAN: Well, I'm from Massachusetts, and I brought my own flute, which is made by a really neat company in Massachusetts. And the song I was going to play is called "Bluenose." It's by a Canadian guy named Stan Rogers. And it's about, you know, an old sailing ship sailing the oceans, being away from home, and that's the kind of perspective you can't help but have when you're up here, looking down at the Earth, and you think about the early explorers. And here we are, more recent explorers, but we all have some things in common. And there are jobs that we have to do far from home.


BLOCK: Cady Coleman, a little flute music from space, thank you so much.

COLEMAN: Well, thank you. I'm a big NPR fan. So it's a pleasure to talk to you and to share our space station life with folks.

BLOCK: Now, the commander of the mission, Scott Kelly, is the brother-in-law of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. I talked with Kelly about the added difficulty of being up there while his family is dealing with the trauma of her shooting down here.

SCOTT KELLY: You know, I think it'd be hard to be anywhere. Being in an isolated environment presents its own special difficulties. But, you know, we have telephone and email, and there's the ability to communicate. You know, certainly, I'd prefer to be able to support my brother and Gabby in person. But, you know, I understand this is my place, and I have a job to do, so I'm getting along fine.

BLOCK: Do you think that you have, in any way, some different perspective following all of this from where you are, you know, 200 miles above the Earth?

KELLY: Certainly, my life up here has changed since the accident. You know, where I used to, in my spare time, looking out the window and taking pictures of the Earth, now I spend more of my spare time on the telephone and with email and following the news than I did before this tragedy.

BLOCK: That's NASA commander Scott Kelly. He's due to return to Earth from the space station next month. His twin brother Mark Kelly, Congresswoman Giffords' husband, is slated to command his own shuttle flight in April.

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