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Astronaut And Rocker Pen First Earth-Space Duet

Canadian Space Agency astronaut Chris Hadfield strums his guitar, a Larrivee Parlor, on the International Space Station in December.
Canadian Space Agency astronaut Chris Hadfield strums his guitar, a Larrivee Parlor, on the International Space Station in December.

Talk about the ultimate space jam.

The song is called "I.S.S. (Is Somebody Singing)," and it's billed as the first space-Earth musical collaboration. It's a very long-distance project from Canadians Ed Robertson of Barenaked Ladies and Chris Hadfield, who currently commands the International Space Station.

The song premiered Friday morning as a prerecorded video. Hadfield performed his part on the space station; Robertson did his in Toronto with a collegiate glee club and the other members of Barenaked Ladies. It was written as part of an annual event for Canadian music students. In May, students across Canada will play the song live with Hadfield in space.

The project launches (sorry) after many months — and miles — of composing and rehearsing that began before Hadfield blasted off to space in December for the third time. Hadfield, who plays the guitar both in Earth-based bands and in orbit, helped fill out some of the more technical details in the space-themed lyrics while, as Robertson notes in a CBC blog, keeping it poetic:

"Eighteen-thousand miles an hour

"Fueled by science and solar power

"The oceans racing past

"At half a thousand tons

"Ninety minutes moon to sun

"A bullet can't go half this fast."

(Read the music and lyrics here and here.)

The song is meant to be a "celebration not about the remoteness of space, but about the connectedness of a human being on the I.S.S. who looks down and sees the whole planet in a way that, from our perspective, we don't have the opportunity to," says Robertson.

Hadfield told NASA in October that writing the song is a way of documenting his experience in space.

"I thought, since I'm there long enough, why not write music about the experience of traveling in space. The early sailors, the early miners, the early cowboys, the pioneers that moved into a new human environment, all of them have recorded the experience not just in journals, but also in song and in music. To be able to use that new environment to help inspire art in the form of music is a way that I thrive on Earth. You can record it lots of different ways. You can write a journal, a blog every day, take a million photographs out the window, try and capture this new human experience different ways."

Hadfield has been pretty prolific when it comes to artistically documenting his life in orbit. He constantly tweets stunning photographs of Earth. (Find them also on Tumblr and Facebook). He uses SoundCloud to compile short audio clips of the sounds on the space station. And he pulls back the curtain on some mysteries, such as how astronauts wash their hands and clip their nails in zero gravity. You can also listen to another original space-themed song Hadfield recorded in December while in orbit. It's called "Jewel In The Night."

So, is playing guitar any different in space? Well, there's no need for a guitar strap, but Hadfield says you also need to relearn how to fret:

"When you're moving fast on the neck, you often miss the frets. On Earth, you're used to the weight of your arm, which helps you track where your hand's going to go. ... Without gravity, you tend to overshoot the mark."

As for the new song, it may be a pretty unique space-Earth collaboration, but it joins a long, long list of space-themed tunes. A few years ago, put together an "astronaut's playlist" that includes "Spacelab" by Kraftwerk, "Deluxe Men in Space" by Man or Astro-Man? and "The Final Countdown" by Europe.

Feel free to use the comments thread to add other space-themed songs to that list.

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