Stephen Robinson plays guitar on stage at The Palms

Photo: Karin Higgins/UC Davis

Aerospace Musician

by | Dec 1, 2017 | Culture, Fall/Winter 2017-18, Office Hours

Stephen Robinson’s 36-year career at NASA included four space shuttle missions and three spacewalks, but before that, he was a musician.

As an undergraduate at UC Davis, Robinson ’78 played the tuba in the Cal Aggie Marching Band-uh! and later he always found time for music, even as a busy NASA scientist and astronaut and now as professor and chair of the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.

“I never stopped,” said Robinson. “The great thing about music is that you can take it with you wherever you go, you can participate as much as you want, and you can constantly learn. It’s a lifelong passion.”

He’s been a member of folk group Bandella — made up of mostly retired astronauts — since its formation about 15 years ago. Its members have really gone the distance during that time — playing together in space and even via radio in mission control when apart. As Robinson put it, “We’re often flung all around the globe and sometimes even off the planet.” Music has long been a unifier among space crews, added Robinson, who plays the guitar, banjo, mandolin, pedal steel, cello and upright bass.

“Music itself is pretty technical, and exploring space requires a lot of creativity and ingenuity,” he said. “To me, it’s all the same subject: What more can the brain do?”

Last summer four members of Bandella, including Robinson, reunited for a one-night gig at The Palms Playhouse in Winters. Next year, he said, the band will perform in Toronto, Canada, but may also return to Northern California.