What really happens when you play a musical instrument in space?


3 May 2019, 17:31

If you’re on the International Space Station for a few months at a time, you probably have some spare time to kill – so it’s only natural that you try to practice for a few hours. But what really happens when you try to create music in microgravity?

First of all, it is possible.

Sound waves must travel through the air to produce sound. Since there is air in a spaceship, musical instruments should always work.

However, this may not work if you are trying to play outside of a shuttle or space station. On a violin or guitar, the strings would vibrate without producing sound. Likewise, brass instruments normally produce sound due to the vibration of the air inside the body of the instrument, so without air it would not work.

Is it safe?

And no, we’re not talking about the instrument flying off and hitting someone in the head (although come to think of it, it absolutely could happen).


Wooden instruments like violins, for example, are flammable – and you should probably ask a spacecraft expert before you board one. Also consider taking your instrument in a metal case, as plastic cases emit more radiation.

What is different?

When you play a musical instrument in a space station, the sound is pretty much the same as the sound waves work the same in microgravity as they do on Earth (see the video above to see some instruments in action) .

However, NASA explains that you have to handle the instrument differently.

In an interview with astronauts Carl Walz and Ellen Ochoa, flutist Ochoa said: “When I played the flute in space, I had my feet in the loops.

Although the force of the air emitted by a flute is very weak, in microgravity it would be enough to move Ochoa around the shuttle. She told NASA, “even with [my] feet hooked in the loops, [I] could feel this force pushing [me] back and forth just kinda like [I] play”.

Artwork of the International Space Station

Guitarist Walz told NASA: “You don’t need a guitar strap up there, but the funny thing was I was playing and all of a sudden the pick was sticking out to me. hands. Instead of falling, he would fly away and I would have to catch him before he got lost.

Walz also explained that when he hit a note on his keyboard in microgravity, he ended up pushing the keyboard back. “You kind of have to get used to it.

And what is not changing?

“The strangest thing about playing music in space is that it’s not strange,” Carl Walz told NASA.

“In most homes there are one or two musical instruments. And I think it’s normal that in a house in space you also have musical instruments. It’s natural. The music makes it look less like a spaceship and more like a house. “

The fact that NASA allowed its astronauts to make music aboard their shuttles underscores the importance of music in their environment, whether they listen to it or create it.

It’s a good idea that while they are in orbit above us, miles from home, astronauts can find solace in practicing their instrument …


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