Monday, May 13, 2013

And the stars look very different today

The Internet is agog with the release of Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield's video cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity" - - a musical interpretation filmed almost entirely onboard the International Space Station.

Hadfield is seen floating in the Tranquility module's cupola, the Japanese Kibo module, and the hatchway to a waiting Soyuz spacecraft. A  unattended, velcro-studded guitar spins languidly through the station, while Hadfield sings lyrics of a space pilot surrounded by technology, viewing a Universe beyond all imaginings.

When people think about the "importance" of manned space flight, it's usually about having someone on hand to repair broken equipment and second-guess computer errors far from home. The true reason people are in space, I believe, is for moments such as this video. We need people in space to interpret and humanize the exploration so that we, as a planet, can share the experience. Folks like Chris Hadfield take the known (a Bowie song, a guitar, a piano) and show us the unknown (looking out the window and seeing a planet) with the reference point of our culture. It's why everyone remembers Alan Shepard's golf shots on the Moon during Apollo 14. It's why we still watch archival footage of Dave Scott and Jim Irwin driving the first lunar rover across the Moon's surface during the Apollo 15 trip. It's even why Ron Howard made the Apollo 13 movie - - when something goes wrong in space, the only time we really care is if there are people onboard.

Hopefully, someday before the centennial of human spaceflight, a human being will make a cover video of David Bowie's "Life on Mars?" -- from the surface of that planet. Certainly another cultural moment everyone on our planet will enjoy.

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