TO BOLDLY play where no Irish traditional musician has played before – that will soon be the proud boast of American Nasa astronaut Catherine “Cady” Coleman who blasts off today from Kazakhstan for a six-month stint on the International Space Station (ISS) orbiting the Earth.
Packed with her space suit and gear for the voyage ahead is a priceless traditional Irish concert flute, given to her by a man who is considered to be out of this world himself by traditional music lovers.
Matt Molloy of The Chieftains and Planxty got to know the Nasa astronaut more than 10 years ago after playing a gig in Houston, Texas.
“We had done a concert and as always we had a tune afterwards with local musicians,” said the Westport-based musician. “It transpired she played the flute and we have been friends ever since.”
A veteran of two space shuttle flights with 500 hours in space behind her, the former US Air Force colonel – who has a doctorate in science and engineering to boot – is a huge fan of the Ballaghaderreen man's music. On a previous trip into space, she packed his Shadows on StoneCD in her space suit.
“Cady told me: ‘Your music always brings me to a special place, so I thought I’d bring yours to one’. I was really moved,” said Molloy.
For her first voyage to the ISS, however, she has gone one better.
“She told me she was going to be heading there for six months and asked me if I had a flute that she could play while on the station.” While joking that his response may have been “a moment of weakness”, Molloy gave her one of his most prized possessions, his E-flat flute. He played the instrument on his landmark first solo album made with Dónal Lunny in 1976.
“It was made in the late 1890s or early 1900s and I couldn’t possibly put a value on it but it’s very special to me. Cady is a fine accomplished flute-player, so it will be in good hands,” Molloy added.
Along with Russian cosmonaut Dmitry Kondratyev and Italian Paolo Nespoli, Ms Coleman blasts off from Baikonur today to dock with the ISS where they will join two Russian crew and another fellow American.