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Astronaut Ellen Ochoa, a classical musician, brought her flute as one of her personal items on her first shuttle flight. She only got to play it once, though, and that was as part of an educational video for school kids. On short shuttle flights, she explains, astronauts are so busy that they really don't have much time to play an instrument. "For a shuttle flight, it's probably more of a sentimental thing, a memento for people who have had music as a serious hobby."
But on long duration stints onboard the station, "you do have a fair amount of free time," says Walz, "especially on Sundays." There's more opportunity to take out an instrument and play.
An electronic keyboard, for instance, might be a source of electromagnetic radiation capable of interfering with the operation of the shuttle or station. Such items can usually be modified, explains Pedley. The type of casing makes a difference: something in a metal case generally doesn't emit much radiation; in a plastic case, it emits more. Usually, he says, it's possible to change one or two components in a way that reduces the radiation without affecting the function.
Wooden instruments like guitars raise another concern: they're flammable. These things are allowed to go up only if astronauts agree to handle them with care and stow them while not in use.
In his Oral History, U.S. Mir astronaut Andy Thomas discusses recreational activities onboard Mir.
Thomas says that it's largely up to the crewmember to make sure he or she has good acitivities planned. "I think the big lesson from that is, if you're going to do a long-duration flight like this, the crewperson does have to have a personal recreation device at his disposal which is something he or she really derives a personal benefit from.
"NASA can provide tapes and videos and CDs and things like that, but the crewperson needs to think about what they really need for themselves for that time, ... such as a hobby to take with them ... because it's really important that you have good recreation [in order to] ... psychologically remove you from the environment, so that you can have productive times during your work, just like here on Earth."
According to an intercepted communication, the Mission Control has demanded that the cosmonauts aboard the Mir get rid of the liquor-brewing still illegally installed aboard by one of the previous crews.
It is the presence of the still, maintains a program official who would not be identified, that forced the recent shutdown of the main computer. "While the Russians are highly ingenious with brewing devices, they have not found ways to successfully integrate them in the electronic environment."