Dr. Garrett Reisman, a native of New Jersey, is a veteran astronaut. He spent three months aboard the International Space Station in 2008 conducting one spacewalk lasting seven hours. Sirius XM radio host Dusty Street, who broadcasts live from the Rock Hall during the week, caught up with him during his final preparations for his flight aboard the Space shuttle Atlantis which embarked on its final planned mission on May 14, 2010. During the 12-day flight, Dr. Reisman will conduct two spacewalks.
Dusty Street: Dusty Street here talking to world famous Astronaut, do they call you Dr. Garrett?
Garrett Resiman: Well not too many people call me world famous, but you can just call me Garrett.
D: Well as you know, all of us Rock and Rollers are a bit of a space cadet, but I want to know what inspired you to come to the Rock Hall for some things to take on what I believe to be the last flight of the Atlantis?
G: Yes, well our future here at NASA is currently in transition so we are not 100% sure that it is going to be the last flight of Atlantis. Our crew has gotten into the habit of calling it the First Last flight of Atlantis. There’s a chance she’ll fly again, but there’s a chance she won’t. So it could be a pretty historic flight.
As far as the Rock Hall, I got a chance to visit the Hall of Fame when I was visiting NASA Glenn after my first mission, so I thought, well, music does play a role in what we do up there in our daily lives on the Space Station and it would be great to make reference to that and take something up from the Hall of Fame.
D: So does everybody take and load their own IPod and then when you go up there do you guys all share it?
G: Yes, each crew member gets an IPod. It’s a standard issued IPod and you have to turn in your music and they take your CD’s and/or your own personal IPod and transfer it onto the NASA IPod. So everyone has their own menu and tracks that they take. It can vary widely. As you might imagine we have a very large variety of musical taste here in the Astronaut office. So we don’t have to share though; there is only one set of speakers that we use on the shuttle, so if you don’t want to use your ear buds, you have to fight over who gets the speakers.
D: I was going to say, that could be some pretty rowdy entertainment in itself, the fight over the speakers. Correct me if I’m wrong, are there only English speaking people on the Space Station?
G: Not really, actually it is the international Space Station. We have partners. The most common other nationality up there are the Russians. The Space Station is more or less an equal partnership between the United States and Russia. We also have Japanese Astronauts, European Astronauts, Canadian Astronauts. At any one time, we can have pretty much someone from any corner of the World.
D: And how does music help with the communication or breaking the ice with people that don’t speak the same language as you do?
G: Well even though we all grow up in different parts of the World, the interesting thing is that when it comes to music, music is such a global phenomenon whether you have a Russian Cosmonaut, who is a Military officer in the Russian Air Force, or you have Japanese scientist, chances are everybody likes to listen to Bon Jovi. So it’s a great equalizer and it is something that brings us together, I think.
D: Do you find that they have some interesting tastes in music that you would not have ordinarily have been turned onto?
G: It’s interesting that two Russian cosmonauts I flew with when I was on the Space Station on my last mission … they had a tendency towards hair or metal rock. It was kind of like flying with Beavis and Butt Head, but with Russian accents.
D: (laughter) That’s outstanding.
G: I would float over to the Russian segment and there would be like some Ratt playing or Poison or something like that would be blaring through the speakers. They play it loud over on the Russian side because the Russian modules tend to be a little noisier than the American module; so one way they deal with that is by cranking up the music.
D: Well that has certainly been the way I have dealt with noise all my life. So I have kind of a bizarre question here and I probably should be a little more knowledgeable, because I did graduate high school, but we send a lot of noise out into space. Not just satellite radio, but all kinds of different things bouncing off of satellites. As a matter of fact in 1977, I think NASA put a recording of Chuck Berry on the voyager. Do any of these satellite sounds get in the way of what you are trying to do or can you hear them out in space at all?
G: Well, occasionally depending on the different radios we are using, you can get some bleed over from commercial or civilian transmissions from the ground. I know it is relatively common when you are flying over Argentina. You may pick up a local radio station because the frequencies are closer. It’s not so much of an issue on the shuttle or the American part of the space station, but you can get a little of that bleed over. It is almost like that scene in Spinal Tap when they’re playing at the Air Force base and they start picking up radio from the air traffic control transmissions from the wireless guitar, if you remember that scene.
D: Absolutely. So let me ask you if that is happening out there, does that mean that perhaps rock and roll will be the universal language?
G: It could be. It is right now, I could tell you. It is the international language on the space station. Everybody has their tastes. There are astronauts who really enjoy country western music and astronauts that listen to classical music. I would say the most common thing you hear hear as you float through the Space Station is rock and roll.
D: You know, I have this kind of strange image in my head of a bunch of you guys doing some kind of weird dance there suspending in space, with no gravity. Has music ever created an unusual situation?
G: Probably one of the biggest impacts that music had – unfortunately it wasn’t rock and roll music – but when we are approaching the Space Station, the Space Station is enormous. I could quote you the numbers and stuff, but it won’t really convey the sense of enormity that you see out the window as you’re floating up to it. In fact, sitting in my office right here right now is the Commander of the last Space Shuttle flight and he just remarked about how overwhelmingly big it is. You’re almost being swallowed up by the Death Star as you approach this thing. The solar arrays are the size of football fields and so it’s just this enormous vehicle that dwarfs the Space Shuttle. As we floated towards it, we all recalled that scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey where they played – I guess it was “the Blue Danube” by Straus. So we said the only thing missing was that music. Three months later when it was time for me to come home, I had in the interim had my wife email me an MP3 of that music and as we backed away from the Space Station, I asked the Commander if he was ready for some theme music. I had the speakers and I played the Blue Danube and it was a magical moment for all of us and everyone was taken aback because it was just perfect.
D: That sounds stunning. Now I know that once and a while you guys get awakened by music from Earth, who picks it and what was your first choice?
G: That’s a good question. It’s true, we have what we call wake up music and each crew member is allotted one or two days, (depending on how long your mission is on the Space Shuttle) for the whole crew to be awakened by that persons music that day. The music is not typically picked by the Astronauts, but by the Astronaut’s family. Sometimes they tell you what they are picking and sometimes they don’t. For me, on my first flight, it was the fourth day of the mission and that was when I was going outside to do a Space walk. It was a big day for me and it was my first Space Walk. My wife picked the music and unbeknown to me it was “Saturday Night” by the Bay City Rollers. The reason she picked that is when I go snowboarding – at least that season prior to the flight – I had the tendency to sing that song for myself before I would go into the Terrain Park and jump to try and get my courage up. She figured that would be appropriate to try and get me psyched up and get my courage up to go outside a little S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y night.
D: That’s so cool. Hey listen, what do you think about when you’ve got this space suit on? I know you can’t take any music in there because you probably need to hear what the guys are saying to you, but do you have a moment where music comes into your head?
G: Yeah, one thing when you’re out doing a Space Walk, like you said, they don’t play it over the radio for you. However, when we train for the Space Walks we do it inside this gigantic pool. What they do is put little floats and weights all over your suit so you don’t float up to the surface and you don’t sink down to the bottom. And they make you what is called “neutrally buoyant” as possible. That takes a while to do, so they pipe in some music. That is a wonderful peaceful moment right before a difficult training exercise. That’s always fun and I always thought “wow, if they could pipe music into the suit, we probably could get a lot more done up in space,” because that really helps you get into the mood of moving along if you have a nice tune playing.
D: Yeah, but if someone’s got a recorder, it would be like someone recording you singing in the shower, right Garrett?
G: Oh no, you don’t want to hear me sing. I only sing when I want people to get out of my car.
D: That’s a good trick. I know you have an incredibly busy schedule and I certainly don’t want to keep you, but I would like to thank you so much for joining us and taking time out to talk to us. I will definitely be looking forward to seeing you when you come back.
G: That would be great I would definitely love to come back to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and have a chance to visit with all of you guys after the mission is over.
D: I would ask you what you will be doing when you go up there but it is probably a secret right?
G: No, no its not. We are flying back to the Space Station and we are taking the big Russian Module that comes in the payload bay of the space shuttle, we are going to install that. We are also bringing up a new set of batteries for one of the solar arrays and we are also bringing up a new antenna. So the antenna, batteries and also a new piece of the one of the Canadian robots is coming up with us and we are going to do three space walks to install all that equipment on the outside of the space station. That’s, in a nutshell, our mission.
D: That has got to be the most amazing experience of anyone ever: to do a space walk. I mean when you’re not on stage, thank you Michael Jackson.
G: Yep, I wouldn’t know what that is like, but I can tell you nothing in my lifetime, nothing’s compared to being outside on a space walk. Of all the things I’ve done as an Astronaut, nothing compares to that.