Max Q Live
In space no one can hear you sing.
- By Michael Cassutt
- Air & Space magazine, March 2009
(Page 3 of 7)
“We even won a battle of the bands at Clear Lake Park one day. The weather was so abysmal that none of the other bands showed up. So we won by default, and can legitimately claim to be ‘the award-winning Max Q.’ ”
Twenty-one years later, Gibson and the rest of the original Max Q members are retired from NASA, the band is on its third generation of astronaut musicians, and there are no signs of disbanding. Not even a rumor.
NO ONE’S QUITE SURE what percentage of NASA’s astronauts play musical instruments. Gibson puts it at 50 percent. But only a handful have joined Max Q, or even considered it. Rick Husband, commander of the ill-fated Columbia, was famed for his singing voice, but his musical tastes ran to church hymns. Others, like Ellen Ochoa, who in graduate school had been a flute soloist with Stanford University’s symphony orchestra, preferred classical music.
The musical background of the original Max Q members varied greatly. Shaw had joined a rock band called The Gentlemen while attending the University of Wisconsin at Madison. (He also owes his flying career to The Gentlemen. “Our drummer, Steve Schimming, had a private pilot’s license, and one day he took me up in his plane. From that moment on, I wanted to be a pilot.”)
Gibson had resisted a parental order to take up the piano, choosing instead to try the guitar. He even built one himself. “My dad bought me the electronic pickup, but that was all. So I literally got some boards and used HO train wire for the strings…. It sounded awful, but it was a homemade electric guitar.”
Nelson, who like Hawley was an astronomer before joining NASA, had played piano and cello as a kid. He also played rhythm guitar in “a pretty good garage band” in high school. “We’d do a show at the local armory or something, charging $2 a head,” he says.
Wetherbee had played drums with the Notre Dame University marching band for a year, but put away his kit when he joined the Navy. “I couldn’t take the drums on an aircraft carrier,” he says.
As the original Max Q members left NASA or moved on to different jobs, other astronauts stepped up to take their places. First came “Pepe,” Navy pilot Pierre Thuot. “I heard that Pinky Nelson was leaving after [mission] STS-26 in fall 1988. So I simply approached the band,” he says. Thuot had taught himself to play guitar in high school, and had kept playing during his time at the Naval Academy in Annapolis and in the Navy. But he’d never been in a band.