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Astro-Lung: Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson to Duet With Astronaut on International Space Station

Apr 9, 2011 – 10:51 AM
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David Moye

David Moye Contributor

Jethro Tull lead singer and flutist Ian Anderson has made some out-of-this-world music, but his upcoming collaboration could be his spaciest concert yet.

That's because part of it will be from space itself: The International Space Station, to be specific.

On April 12, Anderson will be taking part in a duet with U.S. astronaut Col. Catherine Coleman, also a flutist, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Russian astronaut Yuri Gagarin's first manned space flight in 1961.

Here's the catch: Anderson will be performing on stage in Perm, Russia, while Coleman orbits 250 miles above Earth. Her performance will be screened by video link to the audience.

Catherine Coleman and Ian Anderson
Getty Images / AP
On April 12, Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull will perform a duet with U.S. astronaut Catherine Coleman. But there's a catch: He will be on stage in Perm, Russia, and she will be 250 miles above Earth in the International Space Station. (Getty Images/AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)
The duo will perform "Bouree," an instrumental reworking of the Johann Sebastian Bach composition "Bouree in E Minor," which originally appeared on Jethro Tull's 1969 album "Stand Up."

Although Coleman has been aboard the space station since December, the gig has been in the works for months. In fact, Anderson helped her get ready by giving her one of his flutes to take on the journey.

Besides working on the musical part of the duet during her downtime, Coleman has been working on her stage manner by practicing her version of Anderson's trademark of playing the flute while standing -- or in her case, floating -- on one leg.

The gig came about in part because of Coleman's friend Dayna Steele. The former rock disc jockey, now married to former NASA pilot Charles Justiz, has acted as a bridge between the rock world and the astronaut community.

On the surface, space exploration and rock music seem worlds apart, but Steele said there is actually a strong mutual appreciation between rock stars and astronauts.

"David Crosby is a huge sci-fi and space nut and knows lots of astronauts," she told AOL News. "In fact, I met my husband at a Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young show. And he introduced me to [Coleman]."

Obviously the flute takes a backseat to Coleman's day job, but Steele said she is an accomplished musician who is in a band called Max Q with other astronauts.

"The astronauts are allowed to take personal items," Steele said. "For instance, Ed Lu took a keyboard with him on Expedition 7.

"Kate thought it would be fun to do a duet in space and asked me if I knew how to get in touch with Ian since I've been part of that world. So I tracked him down."

After Steele's introduction, Anderson and Coleman hit it off and plans for the duet were set in motion.

Musically, both are as prepared as they're going to be for Tuesday's concert. But there are some technical issues that may come into play, Steele said.

"There is usually a four-second delay when you're talking to someone from the space station," she said. "It's a challenge trying to talk with someone. I imagine playing music together might be tough."

As unusual as this collaboration is, it may be not be the most bizarre NASA-rock music project. That still goes to "Privet Radost," a Russian version of "Hello, Darlin'," a country hit by singer Conway Twitty recorded for the 1975 Apollo-Soyuz mission.

It's also not the first time an astronaut has planned to perform with a major musician while in space.

Ron McNair, who died during the 1986 launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger, played sax and had planned a similar space duet with famed French composer Jean Michel Jarre.

"He was going to play a song, but then the Challenger blew up," Steele said.

Jarre later recorded the tune as "Ron's Piece," with Kirk Whalum in his place.

This time, Steele is hoping for the best and considers the Coleman-Anderson duet a perfect way to show just how far humans have come -- and gone. She also hopes NASA seizes the opportunity to promote the universality of music.

"This is amazing and NASA is missing the boat if they don't let people know the importance music plays in the lives of astronauts," she said.

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