MUSIC OF THE SPHERES
Guitar Player|Holiday 2021
Astronaut Chris Sembroski took a Martin ukulele to space and discovered the joy of making music in microgravity.
JIMMY LESLIE

IF YOU STRUM A ukulele in space, does it make a sound? In Chris Sembroski’s case, it certainly makes a difference. The Air Force veteran won the Generosity seat on the first-ever all civilian crew for SpaceX’s Inspiration4 mission. With a donation to St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, the U.S. Space Camp counselor and Lockheed Martin data engineer was entered in the contest that ultimately punched his ticket beyond the stratosphere. He brought a Martin soprano ukulele designed specially for the mission aboard and played it in space. Now that uke, autographed by the entire crew, is being auctioned off during St. Jude’s Virtual Holiday Auction, from November 22 to December 6, as a part of the overriding goal of raising $200 million (see stjude. org for details).

The other members of Inpiration4 included commander and benefactor Jared Isaacman representing Leadership, Dr. Sian Proctor representing Prosperity and Hayley Arcenaux representing Hope. Arcenaux is a cancer survivor who was treated at St. Jude’s and now works there. The Netflix documentary Countdown: Inspiration4 Mission to Space, introduced the crew to the world prior to the September 15 launch, which SpaceX streamed live. Watching the Dragon capsule engulfed in flames as it burst forth made the extraordinary danger level extremely obvious. After orbiting the earth over three days at the highest altitude ever — beyond the International Space Station — the crew splashed down safely in the Atlantic.

It was truly inspirational to watch civilians train and transform into superheroes. It's in that spirit that we approached Sembroski. He’s a musical hobbyist rather than the kind of acoustic fabuloso normally featured in Frets, but he certainly has a fabulous story to tell about a mind-blowing musical experience playing in space. Martin Guitar has long been a champion of exploration and continues to push the envelope of guitar sustainability (see the December issue for a review of the 00L Earth). The historic manufacturer created a commemorative ukulele made from sustainably sourced sinker mahogany in a soprano size similar to the model “Ukulele” Dick Konter brought along on Admiral Richard Byrd’s 1926 pioneer mission to the North Pole. Inspiration4 has clear parallels to that historic trek, and represents another giant step for civilian musical adventurers like Ukulele Dick and Chris “Hanks” Sembroski.

What was the impetus for making some music on this mission?

This mission represents the democratization of space, and so it resonates with me that as we try to bring more humans into space, we want to bring more of our humanity with us. As a member of the first all-civilian crew, I thought it would be a good idea to bring some music into space. I figured I could make that contribution. My entire family is musical, but I’m the only one that has really picked up the guitar, and then this summer the ukulele, as my favorite form of musical expression and outlet for creativity.

Can you cite a favorite player or two?

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