Tag Archives: num:ScienceMuseum=1976-106

In space, no one can hear country music

If ‘in space, no one can hear you scream’, as the publicity for the film Alien says, then certainly no one can hear Country music. Except, that is, if they are in a spaceship.

Apollo Ten, 1969 (Science Museum / Science & Society)

Outer space is a vacuum and – like Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, the Apollo 11 crew – you can travel through it in a private capsule of sound. Each of the astronauts was allowed to take one tape on the mission, and Country music was the preference of two of them. Cowboy music. Music for opening-up a new frontier.

During the Apollo concert, July 2009 (Gaetan Lee)

Last year, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the moon landings, the Science Museum, with new music promoters Sound & Music, staged the first live performances of Apollo, the score to Al Reinert’s film For All Mankind. The arrangement was by Wujun Lee, and performed by Icebreaker with BJ Cole on pedal steel guitar – and that’s where the Country music comes in. Brian Eno - who created the music with his brother Roger and Daniel Lanois – was very tickled by the astronaut’s choice, and so incorporated slide guitar into the sound.

BJ Cole (BJ Cole)

Apollo 10 Command Module, 1969

Apollo 10 Command Module, 1969 (Science Museum / Science & Society)

Afterwards, excited punters paused in our Making the Modern World looking with renewed interest at our Apollo 10 capsule.

Now the Apollo concerts have broken free of the Science Museum’s gravity and have begun to appear in new orbits. Last weekend saw new performances at the Brighton Festival. Apollo will be performed at Camp Bestival (30 July) and Aldeburgh (23 Aug), before going on tour throughout the UK in the autumn.

Do the maths!

It’s a real privilege to get right up close to an object; being able to read an inscription; noticing the wear and tear; discovering an unexpected little detail. A few years ago I examined the Museum’s Beta 1 – a late 1940s rocket engine – and spotted the letters ‘T STOFF INLET’ inlet stamped on one of the valves.

Beta 1 rocket engine inscription

My discovery on the Beta 1 rocket engine © Science Museum / Science & Society

This British engine was a precursor to those used on the Black Arrow space rocket and I knew of its German ancestry but was still delighted to find clear evidence preserved on the artefact (T Stoff was the German term for hydrogen peroxide oxidiser).

Of course, the problem with many museum objects is that they have to be kept behind glass.

The Apollo 10 command module – one of the Museum’s Centenary icons – is rather fortunately not enclosed but has still to be physically isolated from the visitor with a barrier and from air-born dust by Perspex covers over the hatch and docking port.

Apollo 10 command module, 1969

Apollo 10 command module, 1969 © Science Museum / Science & Society

So for one day only in May of 2009, to commemorate the mission’s 40th anniversary, we sought permission from the spacecraft’s owner – the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum – to VERY CAREFULLY allow people up close to peer inside the spacecraft.

It took a lot of organising, but it was wonderful to see the reactions of the very young visitors who, with help from mum or dad, enjoyed looking in at the truly space age control consoles of the spacecraft.

Computer keyboard, Apollo 10.

Computer keyboard, Apollo 10 © Science Museum / Science & Society

They could just about make out the hurried pencil jottings that the astronauts had made near their computer console. They’d probably been working out some bearings or the timing of a rocket engine burn. As the astronauts say themselves: if you want to be an astronaut you need to work hard at school and do the maths!