Harps In Space

Smithsonian National Space And Air Museum 2Houston, we have a problem..

In December 1965, the Gemini 6 space rocket was launched by NASA on a mission to dock with the Gemini VII module in outer-space. This was to be the first ever rendezvous of two spacecraft. It had two astronauts on board, commander pilot Wally Schirra Jr, a harmonica player, and co-pilot Tom Stafford. The mission was a success and, as it ended, the astronauts headed back to earth for Christmas. The twist came when they played a trick on their friends at mission control.

Astronauts 2Wally said he could see another space craft with an astronaut dressed in a red suit at the controls. The other space craft’s main module was also being pulled by eight smaller modules. The team at NASA were confused and worried; could it be a Soviet Russian rocket? Then Wally took his tiny four-hole Little Lady harmonica and played Jingle Bells while his co-pilot, Tom Stafford shook some mini sleigh bells. The reply came back from NASA; ’You’re too much!’

Listen to

PlacardTo infinity and beyond

So the harmonica was the first musical instrument to be played in outer space. To stop his harmonica from floating around the capsule, Wally attached it to his space suit with a strip of Velcro (a recent NASA invention) and a length of dental floss. The sleigh bell and harmonica that Wally Schirra played are both on display in the Smithsonian National Air And Space Museum, Washington DC, USA.

Display 2Gemini VII, the spacecraft that Wally Schirra and Tom Stafford had successfully docked with, remained in space and orbited the earth for two weeks, setting a new duration record for human spaceflight. In doing so, it proved that a two-week mission to land on the moon was possible. Six years later the first man stepped onto the moon.

Little LadyDid you know, the four hole Little Lady is also the original smallest harmonica in production. It’s only 3½ centimetres long? It plays in the key of C Major and the notes are the same as those in a 4 hole Hohner Speedy harmonica, only a couple of octaves higher!