Chris HAdfield

January 20, 2016 by Speakers' Spotlight

It’s Surprisingly Difficult to Play Guitar in Space

There are so many simple activities we take for granted thanks to gravity. Things like going to the bathroom, eating dinner, and getting some sleep don’t require an undue amount of strategic planning. But in space, even the most basic activities are a challenge. Canadian astronaut Colonel Chris Hadfield, who lived aboard the International Space Station from 2012 to 2013, recently explained to CBC Music how difficult it was to play guitar in space, along with some pointers for future space musicians:

Hadfield, whose tweets and photos amassed a large social media following during his time aboard the ISS, brought his guitar with him to orbit. Before he left the space station, he filmed a cover of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” (with the blessing of the recently deceased rock star)that the internet loved.

Playing in space is particularly difficult, Hadfield said, because you have to press the guitar against you so that it doesn’t float away, while also trying to move your hand up and down the fretboard.

In the video, Hadfield said that his Earth-based producer told him his guitar playing sounded a little messy on the tracks he was sending down. Hadfield responded: “You come up here and play guitar—it’s all over the place.”

Hadfield also said that weightlessness interfered with the muscle memory of where his hands belonged to play a certain chord. If you want to recreate the feeling of playing guitar in space, stand on your head for a few hours and then try to play upside down. “You kind of have to learn how to be a space musician,” Hadfield said.

Bowie passed away on Sunday (Jan. 10); he spent much of his musical career obsessed with space.

Here’s Hadfield performing one of Bowie’s biggest hits while in orbit:

Mike Murphy/QZ/January, 2016