Thursday, November 19, 2009

Musician jazzes up space shuttle mission

Atlantis launch photo courtesy of NASA.

What’s it like to play a grand piano beneath a Saturn V rocket?

“It’s pretty incredible,” says Gary Motley, Emory director of jazz studies, and one of the few people who can answer that question. Motley traveled to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida earlier this week, to perform at a send-off party for his cousin, astronaut Bobby Satcher, who is on the crew of the Atlantis space shuttle.

Satcher’s relatives flew in from around the country for the party arranged by his wife, D’Juanna. Motley (below right) played “How High the Moon,” and other jazz tunes for the event, which was held in a hangar of the space center. “They’ve got a Saturn V rocket mounted horizontally from the ceiling,” Motley says. “It’s unbelievably big. Just guessing, I’d say it’s the length of a 12-story building.”

Satcher was unable to attend the send-off in person, since he was undergoing flight preparation, but he spoke to the guests via phone. "He asked who was there, and 300 people cheered back," Motley says. "I think he was surprised by the magnitude."

It’s the first space flight for Satcher, who will be doing a space walk. For a relaxing diversion during the mission, the astronaut took along Motley’s latest jazz CD, a collection of original music entitled “Renaissance.”

“I’m thrilled!” Motley says. “I think it’s also special to him, because he’s taking that connection to the family with him into space.”

The highlight of the experience for Motley was the launch itself, on Monday at 2:29 p.m. “The sound! I’ve never heard anything like it,” he says. “When the smoke cleared on the launch pad and the Atlantis lifted off, it was so bright, it was like looking at the sun. It moved incredibly fast. They announced it was going 200 miles per hour, then 2,000 miles per hour, then 9,000. When somebody that you know and are connected to is on board, it’s overwhelming.”

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