Brian May interviews: NASA New Horizons Mission Ultima Thule Flyby and single


News Week’s article today covers Brian’s involvement in the New Horizons mission. Their Science Editor attended the Mission Moon 3-D book launch at the London Science Museum in October.

31 December 2018 by Katerine Hignett


NASA will celebrate the milestone just past the stroke of midnight January 1 with an introduction like no other. Queen guitarist and astrophysicist Brian May will launch a new song inspired by the mission from NASA control HQ in Maryland—his first official solo work in two decades. Before its NASA TV debut at 12.02 a.m. ET, only a select few ears will have heard the song—including New Horizons boss Alan Stern, who first suggested creating the track.

BRIAN MAY: “You know, I don’t know if anyone’s going to like it yet. I have been bouncing it off Alan all the way. He’s made some comments—some very interesting comments, because of course he comes from a completely different world from me. And he’s been liking it, which is great.”  

“I find myself in an unusual place because I’m deeply immersed in music—and have been all my life—but I’m also deeply immersed in astronomy and astrophysics.”

Creating a single inspired by the “wonderful” New Horizons probe was “an amazing opportunity for me to combine the two.”

Of being in the Control Room for the probe’s historic flyby of Pluto back in 2015:

“It was quite mind-blowing because all through my childhood Pluto was just a white dot in a picture book. Nobody knew anything more than that about it really. Then suddenly you have this wonderful spacecraft zooming past it and taking the most incredible close-up pictures.”

New Horizons’s exploration of the Kuiper belt—an enormous band of mysterious, icy objects beyond the orbit of Neptune—is an incredibly exciting moment for science, May says, because the region is “filled with all sorts of objects which have been there since the dawn of the creation of our solar system. Putting that into a song was pretty daunting to be honest. Initially I scratched my head and thought how would that work?”

…With the help of legendary lyricist Don Black, May got “the kick in the backside” he needed, and the song began to emerge, buoyed along the way by notes from Stern, whom May calls “a bit of a genius.”

Creating the song:

“The instinctive, the passionate, the almost unconscious side [of my brain] takes over. As soon as I heard the words from Don I could hear the melody in my head. It just somehow took shape.”

Stephen Hawking’s words to the New Horizons team on 2015’s successful Pluto flyby were a perfect addition to the track, suggested by friend and collaborator Claudia Manzoni. The mission, Hawking had said, would shed light on the formation of the solar system; the circumstances that allowed human beings to come into existence.

“He said exactly what was in my mind. In another part of his message—which actually nobody has heard yet—he said, ‘we do this because we are human and because we need to know.'”

The track will be beamed out to the New Horizons probe on New Year’s Day.

New Horizons cover art
New Horizons Artwork

Face of Bank of England Bank Note”?

“One of the greatest brains of the past few generations, [Hawking] should be there, along with Newton. Absolutely.”

Of New Horizons Mission companion single:

“… has been a little whirlwind of its own. I’m celebrating the fact that mankind wants to make this kind of adventure – wants to discover what’s out there and push ever further out into the universe.”

The New Horizons single will have a global digital release January 1. The song will premiere on NASA TV at 12.02 a.m. ET. READ MORE HERE

Guardian article in today’s print edition and online (Science page), includes details of the song and quotes from Brian May’s phone interview with Science Editor

Nasa’s New Horizons spacecraft ‘phones home’ after flyby of Ultima Thule
31 Dec 2018

After the Pluto encounter, Alan Stern, the principal investigator on New Horizons, asked Brian May, the Queen guitarist and astrophysicist, if he would compose a track to celebrate the Ultima Thule flyby.

BRIAN MAY: “I did scratch my head for a while. The name is quite hard to conjure with. But then it came to me that this is about man’s desire to reach out into the universe and explore, and see things that have never been seen before.”

The New Horizons track, May’s first solo single for two decades, includes a message from Stephen Hawking and will be premiered at the New Horizons control centre at Johns Hopkins University shortly before the flyby.

“It’s been very exciting. I feel like I’m on that thing.To me, it’s about the human spirit and reaching out to discover where we are and why we are here.”