By Gabriel Kogel
Retrieving payloads with a robot arm while hurtling around the globe at 17,500 miles per hour demands many skills, being able to play “Big Yellow Taxi” is not one of them.
But on Thursday, Astronauts Catherine “Cady” Coleman and Daniel Burbank showed that science and artistic expression go hand in hand.
Bryan McKay of One Giant Leap Foundation, a non-profit organization working to promote science and math education to students as well as inform people about space exploration, made the event possible. He is also the parent of an MCLA student.
“This is where one guy makes a difference,” Coleman said. “So for anyone who’s thinking of doing something, and thinking it might not work, think again. Bryan made [this] happen, and he’s a real person, with real dreams and everyone else can do that, too.”
In addition to “Big Yellow Taxi,” they also played “Every Morning,” and “Oh Susanna.” Burbank played his guitar and sang while Coleman accompanied with her flute. A bass player and a flutist from the College joined them as well.
The event was called “STEAM: A Space Odyssey.” The term ‘STEAM,’ adds ‘Art’ to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). The addition represents the inspiration art provides to scientific endeavors, such as the space program.
“A lot of the experiences we have living in space are very human experiences to the core,” Burbank said during the performance. “And one of the challenges we have is to be out in public and try to describe in words what it’s like to be out
The duo followed their performance with an extraterrestrial slide show featuring images from their time aboard the International Space Station (ISS). With tensions between the United States and Russia at their highest since the end of the cold war, Burbank spoke about the camaraderie of the international crew.
“There’s a lot that the space station program could teach the governments around the world,” he said during the presentation. “This is a purely-peaceful, egalitarian effort that a lot of countries have thrown their lot in.”
One purpose of the space station is to perform experiments meant to improve pharmaceuticals. Also, the study of crystal formation in zero gravity is aiding semiconductor design for use in computers, according to Coleman.
The space station allows astronauts to grapple with the problems humans face while living in space for long periods. Resolving these issues are key to planning a manned mission to Mars.
“Unfortunately, we’re not ready to send people to Mars,” Coleman said during the presentation. “Zero gravity is magical, but unfortunately it’s not good for our physiology. We lose bone and muscle up there ten times faster than a woman down here who’s seventy years old and is living with osteoporosis. So what she loses in a year, I’d lose in a month.”
Despite this, the space station crew has been able to reduce bone loss to almost zero using a device called an Advanced Resistance Exercise Device (ARED). The machine simulates weight training in zero gravity, allowing astronauts to maintain musculoskeletal strength, according to Burbank.
“We thought [bone loss] was a showstopper for deep space, for going to Mars,” he said. “But now, folks are coming down with so little bone loss, it’s dropped way down the list of possible threats.”
Coleman and Burbank spoke highly of the partnerships between the space program and private companies.
“NASA is taking all the things that we know how to do, such as taking supplies and people up and down, and transferring them to our commercial partners,” Coleman said during the presentation.
In addition to SpaceX and Orbital Sciences, General Motors has teamed up with NASA to create RoboNaut, a dexterous humanoid robot considered the seventh crew member of the Soyuz, according to Coleman.
“He’s got his own twitter account, his own Facebook page,” Coleman said during the presentation. “It really is a neat partnership between GM and NASA, looking at how we can have human beings and robots working together in space.”