Sarah Brightman: ISS experiments open window to future for us all
Another star is about to rise to the vastness of space, as world-famous singer Sarah Brightman prepares to become a space tourist; a journey to the Earth’s orbit, a vacation on board the International Space Station. Is she ready for the ride? What she plans to do up there? She speaks to us on Sophie&Co.
Sophie Shevardnadze: Sarah Brightman, it’s so great to have you with us. I don’t know if there’s any need to introduce you to our viewers, everyone knows you at this amazing world famous soprano. You’re a songwriter and a future space tourist. Welcome!
Sarah Brightman: Thank you very much for asking me to come.
SS: Let’s start from the beginning. Obviously, this flight is not a cheap endeavor, it’s $52 million, and I know that you encourage women to actually get involved in science, technology, space. But, I’m thinking, it’s a lot of money, why not just invest in that?
SB: I think that, obviously, the amounts that you are hearing...I am not allowed to talk about the amount contractually, I am not allowed to disclose the figure, but I have paid for it myself. I think there are certain decisions we make, I mean, I’m in my fifties now and I’ve been working for a very long time, working very hard at what I’m doing, I’m very lucky to have a career that I have - but you make a certain decisions at a certain age, and it’s relative to what you have and what you do. Some people want to give money to their children, buy houses, go on a holiday - whatever it is that they want to invest in. This particular journey has been something that I wanted to do most of my life, but there was no real opportunity to do so. So, when it came up, I thought “This is really what I would like to do, this is what would make me happy”, and so I took the decision, and I’m lucky enough to be here, and work in Star сity with amazing people and go on this beautiful endeavor.
SS: But do you feel like this is something that you’re doing solely for yourself, to make you happy, or this is something that can do good for others, this trip? What good can you do with this? Because I’m thinking, like, in the beginning, even NASA was against space tourism thing.
SB: I’m not important enough as a person or knowledgeable enough or arrogant enough to say “I’m going to try to do good with this” - I’m an artist, and I want to go and do this trip because it’s a very personal journey for me. But what I have found, and I found this with space in general, when you talk to people about this particular journey, or they ask questions, there’s an incredibly positive light in people’s eyes, even if they know absolutely nothing about it, and the thought that space travel could be in their future - I am a normal civilian, I am an artist going up, and I’m though all of this to do this. It is a possibility. Actually, with all the troubles in the world and all that is happening, it actually brings a smile to people’s faces - the thought that they can reach the stars, go up to the heavens, however they want to think about it, it’s a beautiful thing. I suppose, for me, as an artist, and that’s what I’ve always done, or try to do, is make people happy with what I do. So, for me, just in the telling of it and understanding and explaining it to people, if they are interested and if they ask, its an incredibly positive thing to do from all aspects.
SS: You keep bringing up that you’re an artist, so let’s talk about the very interesting aspect of this trip - you’re going to be performing a first live concert from outer space.
SB: I wouldn’t call it a concert.
SS: Well, you’re going to be singing, live, from outer space.
SB: I’m going to try and sing.
SS:Do you know what you’re going to sing?
SB: We’ve been working on it. What I have found, obviously there are complexities to this, and I’m trying to do something that is incredibly simple, has a beautiful message. I’m not pretender, I’m only up there for 10 days, I’m not put under too much stress with having to sing something complicated, and also, obviously, the crew around me aren’t either - because we’re all got jobs to do, we’ve got things to do in everyday life up there. What I’d love to do is to sing something very simple, and connect with either orchestra, choir, other singers on Earth. And, you know, from that sort of space-to-Earth connections, I would like to create something really beautiful.
SS: Is there any way you could give us a sneak preview?
SB: I'm afraid I can’t, we work on it at the moment, but technically I understand, there are difficulties, there are… it’s not going to be perfect. You have to try.
SS: Do you have any idea what it’s going to be like to your vocal cords? I mean, the whole zero gravity thing? You diaphragm, your resonators?
SB: I have talked to… I mean, obviously, many cosmonauts and astronauts have sung up there and played music instruments and connected with musicians on Earth with this. I’ve been trying to do as much research as possible. Of course, because of the way our mucus system works, when you’re up there, you do tend to have a certain feeling like a cold, all the fluids go up to this part of your body - so that I have under consideration, so it’s like singing through a cold. Of course, it’s going to be a very-very different feeling, but I have been told by other astronauts who have done this that it’s perfectly possible, it’s just different, and I have to prepare for it.
SS: Well, you have to tell us after you come back what was it like.
SB: I will.
SS: So, you have half-a-year to go before…
SS: So, you’ve been going through this insane, intense training all this time, and it’s getting tougher and tougher - what was the most exciting thing about the whole preparation process so far?
SB: The whole thing has been exciting. I mean, right from...I think it was about 2,5 years ago that I started going for the medicals, to go through that and some of the testing to find out that I was medically very fit - that was a wonderful thing. I wish every human being could go through that, to know how this system is working and find out that they are absolutely fine, because we never quite know. And then, it was exciting just to be put through things like going into the centrifuge, altitude chamber, rotating chair, and find out that I was capable of doing this particular things and not thrown by it.And it gave me a lot of strength inside and a lot of sense that I could deal with these things.
SS: Was there something you felt you couldn’t go through at any point?
SB: Not really. It’s very new to me, all of this, although we’ve been doing medicals and certain things up to this point, I’ve only got through probably two months of proper training. So I’m learning different things every day, I don’t know what’s going to come up exactly, but you deal with it day by day - it’s a huge amount of study you have to do. You have to understand the systems really well, although, of course, you’re not flying it, you have the commander and a first flight engineer.
SS: What do you have to know about your spaceship, your operational system? Would you know how to fix it, or operate it if you need, or are you really just going as a crew member and you rely on others to do this?
SB: Of course, as I said, you’re not flying it. You have certain things that you do have to do. I am called a “right seater” and of course there are various instruments near me, which they can’t reach, so I’ll have to deal with certain things. But, you have to just for your own confidence and for their confidence, and knowing that you will be calm and focused if there’s an emergency situation. You have to understand the system and have the knowledge almost of a commander and first flight engineer just to understand what’s going on when you’re inside there - because there’s huge amounts of movement, there’s a lot of noise, there are all sorts of lights going on and off, there are computer screens with pressure and all sorts of what’s happening. It’s very important for space flight participant to be as knowledgeable. I think this is why they put us through this very, sort of, strong training, there’s a whole reason and matter behind it.
SS: What I’m trying to ask is that, going out there, do you feel like you’re just a mere space tourist or you feel like a full-fledged crew member?
SB: You’re certainly trained to be the latter, but I think that when I’m on the journey, obviously, because I have that confidence of knowing what’s going on, I’ll actually be able to enjoy it as a tourist, because it’s new for me. I’m like a child, I haven’t come from the military, I’m not a scientist, I am a civilian, I am an artist - and so I’m told from the cosmonauts that the feeling you get and the emotions you get from this are absolutely incredible, like you’ve never known, and especially when you get to the ISS, to be there - you know, look in the cupola, look out of the window at our planet - it is the most magical amazing thing and it’s indescribable.
SS: I know that there has been some crazy sort of training that you went through. There was one just recently, in the Russian forest in sub-zero temperature - what was there?
SB: It actually was very enlightening, because, you know, when we are dealing with our everyday situations, of course we have our worries with work and our family things, and everything we have to deal with - but we never really are put in that situation where we have to try and find food, we have to try and find way to keep warm, we have to find any material around us to keep us protected - and what I found with this kind of survival training, is that your focus becomes completely different, you learn things about your instinct for survival that you wouldn’t otherwise have known, so it’s an amazing just to have in life something like this.
SS: I realize this may be, like, a silly thing to ask, because when someone’s investing so much emotional, physical and financial aspect into something, being scared is not something that really comes up - but then again, like, I’m thinking also myself, being in the spaceship - aren’t you scared at all? At any point, do you ever get, like “what am I doing?”
SB: I haven’t come across that yet. I’m sure that those moments will come up; we’re all human, and as brave as we may be, or as focused as we may be...I think that fear usually only comes through lack of knowledge in this situation, and that’s why I work so hard at gaining as much knowledge as possible with it, so that I’m prepared if anything throws me a little. But, for the moment, I haven’t been across anything that really worries me.
SS: So, the flight itself from here to ISS takes 6 hours - that’s like, what, London-Moscow? I mean, I usually just watch movies or chat with people or read stuff - what do you do in that six hours? Can you do anything? Can you talk? Can you move around?
SB: It depends on your commander and what he feels is the right thing to do within that time. Obviously there are various things that everybody has to keep an eye on, and there are snack moments that you can have, there’ll be talking moments, there’ll be moments when one will be looking out of the window in absolute wonderment, because I have a window on the right side of me. So, I have a feeling that that six hours actually passes incredibly quickly, and I’m sure the moment of docking, which we only just started learning about is incredibly exciting and to actually then move into the space station itself is another wonderment. I’m only concerned the time will pass really fast and it will be over.
SS: You’re also training with two other crew members, right?
SB: At this moment, we haven’t started with them. I’ve met all the cosmonauts that will be up at the space station, there’ll be nine of us altogether, and obviously, I’m going up with two - one is Russian and one is Danish, I’m getting to know them better and better.
SS: Is it important to know your crew members well before you go up in space?
SB: I think so, yes. There has to be a shorthand, there has to be a communication. I mean, but even in the social way, you have total respect for your commander, because he’s going to be looking after you, keeping an eye on you, you don’t do anything unless you have him say so, in the vehicle. And what I have experience, being in star city, is that all of the cosmonauts and the professors and everybody working there, they are of the finest minds, they are amazing, and it’s been an absolute pleasure and experience to be working amongst these people who are very strong - it’s great!
SS: How’s your Russian coming along?
SB: Well, luckily when I was younger, being a classical singer, I learned a lot of the Rachmaninov material for soprano, mezzo-soprano, so I had a feeling for the language, and I felt “Oh, I’m going to be fine”. So, I get to star city and we start with our 4 hours, 4 hours a day, amongst all the other lectures that I have.
SS: It’s quite intense.
SB: It’s very intense, and its pretty slow, because I have to prioritize where I need to place energy for learning. To start with this, obviously, it has to be the lectures in the vehicle, but when I come away, I find that its coming easier, and I can say certain things.
SS: Please say something.
SB: Как дела and all of this…
SS: Do you know, like, technical stuff in Russian, things that you would use in space?
SB: Yes, I do, but obviously, in this situation I can’t give that information out.
SS: That’s top secret?
SB: I don’t know if that’s top secret, but it’s better that I don’t, because it’s a work thing. But yes, there’s a fair amount of knowledge in that area that you need to learn, a lot of acronyms in Russian, so, that’s been our main study for the moment.
SS: Then you’ll have to write a song after you come back, so you can use all of that accumulated knowledge, new vocabulary…
SB: I’ve actually been inspired already, I did a beautiful album called “Dreamchaser” which was inspired just up to the journey so far, about, probably, a year and half ago, and then did a world tour after that. It was very space-orientated in its visuals and its feel, which was great fun, and I think the audience really enjoyed it, because being an artist you’re getting a freedom to collect all beautiful space material and put it behind you in visuals. So that was very enjoyable, putting that together.
SS: And had a special chair custom-made for you, is that right?
SB: Chairs have a seat, which is called “seat liner” - its basically to protect your back on descent, because, obviously the vehicle that we’re it has a sole series of parachutes coming up and it has thrusters that slow it down right at the end, and then it hits the earth, and seat liner is designed to help protect your spine. It takes quite a few hours to do, and you’re lying in a white substance that hardens to get the exact shape of your spine. It’s an amazing design, and the seats themselves, you feel very...when your helmet’s on and you’re in your suit and you’re in your seat, it’s almost you’re almost in the fetal position and you feel like you’re swaddled like a baby and actually that’s the time when I feel most relaxed and most comfortable.
SS: Now, you brought up landing. I completely forgot about it - I mean, this is something that I would be the most scared of, because you don’t even know where you will land, right? Or you know approximately…
SB: It’s pretty good. I mean, the history of the Soyuz, the landing has been amazing, it’s credible system, credible vehicle and its history, because it has been going up for years, mix with modern technology of today, and it is perfection in that way, so these are sort of things that I don’t have to fear, it’s all worked out, we’re really looked after.
SS: Then, there’s also a little worrisome aspect of this whole space travel. I know that usually astronauts face the yearly equivalent of radiation on Earth in one day on ISS. Are you prepared to face that?
SB: Absolutely, I do understand these things, and I think, before you go into something like this, you do take all of those things onboard, and mentally prepare for that, so these statistics and all of these things that worry.
SS: Alright, and what about the girly stuff, because braid your hair and do make up. Can you put on makeup?
SB: I’m not necessarily. When I’m in training, all of that goes completely out of the window.
SS: What happens up there? Can you put makeup on, can you do your hair, can you get dressed up?
SB: Of course, you can’t wear high heels or anything like that, but there are very pleasing training types of clothes that we’re allowed to wear up there, they are very comfortable. You know, I’m very used to just tying my hair back, loosely on the side, and I’m being in such quite natural and organic in that way that it doesn’t worry me at all. So I’m prepared for all of that. As I said, it’s a personal journey, and I’m just going to enjoy every minute about it, not necessarily worrying about putting mascara on or whether my face has the right color or whatever.
SS: Also there’s a whole existential aspect to this whole thing. I had a privilege to talk to the amazing astronaut Buzz Aldrin, who operated Apollo 11 and he actually thinks that we’re not alone up there. What do you think?
SB: I haven’t gone into it that deeply. I think it would be arrogant of us as human beings to think that we are the only living creatures - of course we’re not. There has to be many, many other things, properly more that we can even understand. But, on this such a metaphysical side, if you like, for me, I mean, people say: “Why do you want to go?” - as I say, going into real adulthood as I am in my fifties, each day that goes by, I find this planet more extraordinary, more abstract - although everything is very tangible, and all of these mundanities of life that we deal with, just having to survive - sometimes they can really bring us and make us focus onto just that, and one of the reasons I want to go up is that I want to understand everything better, I want to look at a planet and see it from a different perspective, without its borders, each fragility, all of those things, and I think it will enlighten me more and help me understand more, and I think, as human beings, actually, a lot of the reason for us being here is to understand.
SS: There’s another great astronaut that I’ve spoken to, Talgat Musabayev and he thinks that there are no atheists out there, like, if you’re out there, you’ve got to believe in God. What’s your take on that, do you believe in God?
SB: Of course I do, and I have always done since I was very young. How you perceive God is a very personal thing, and obviously, I don’t want to get into that, but of course, as a bigger picture to everything, and, I mean, if you go down to sort of biological, scientifically area of it, there’s a huge part of our brain that hasn’t opened yet, and maybe, the futurists that we have, the people with vision about the future, are ones in whom that little bit of brain has opened a bit more than in the rest of us. There are always leaders in this way.So, I’m incredibly such a positive for myself, looking at everything, about human beings, about nature, is that we are meant to grow, we are meant to understand, and I think it will be in a very positive way in the future - that’s what I am hoping.
SS: March 18th will mark 50 year since the first ever spacewalk. Now, this will be obviously a very important day for the whole international space community - how important is this date for you, personally? And, do you know if there is spacewalk planned during the mission at ISS.
SB: Not the time I am actually there, but I think that probably, many people know of the space station and that people are going backwards and forwards, from Earth to there and that sort of certain things are realized there - but I don’t think people realise how many experiments are carried out there, how much is brought back to earth, learned from the space station. So, everything that is worked on, and actually, happens, at the space station, important, actually, for our future, for medical, especially, for all sort of things, and will be so in the future. I think, for that reason, space exploration and space travel is incredibly important, because I think that what is happening out there in space, even what we know about it with communication, is actually going to help us and help our planet very much in the future.
SS: Sarah Brightman, thank you very much for this interview, we wish you all the best and I really that we get to do this once you’re back on Earth.
SB: Thank you for asking such lovely questions.
SS: Good luck.
SB: Thank you.