March 31, 2009

Updated: Pipes in space? Gold Medalist an astronaut finalist

Bruce Woodley of Richmond, British Columbia, rocketed to piping stardom when he won the Highland Society of London’s Gold Medal at the Northern Meeting in 1993, and now he has the chance to rocket to the stars, literally, after becoming one of the 16 finalists to become an astronaut in Canada’s space program.
Woodley was chosen by the Canadian Space Agency from more than 5,000 applicants vying to represent Canada in future NASA space missions, including long-duration space flights on the International Space Station.
Woodley currently lives in Palo Alto, California, and achieved both a Masters and PhD in electrical engineering from Stanford University after obtaining his BSc in physics from Simon Fraser University in British Columbia. Before moving to California, Woodley played with the Grade 1 Simon Fraser University Pipe Band.
When asked if there were any chanceof him playing the pipes in space should he be selected, Woodley said, “I think it would be great fun to play bagpipes in space, however it might be a challenge to get a set of bagpipes ‘space certified’ from the point of view of flammability. Also launch costs are high (some estimate north of $25,000/kg) to the space station, thus weight might also need to be reduced to be practical for this purpose.
“The space station and shuttle are pressurized to 14.7 psi (standard sea level pressure), but the shuttle also has the capability to operate at a reduced pressure (about 10.5 psi I think) for reasons related to spacewalks. 10.5 psi is equivalent to about 9,000 feet above sea level – think about trying to get a good sound 1,000 feet higher than Vail Colorado. I believe the Apollo spacecraft were all about 4 psi cabin pressure, or about 32,000 feet above sea level (in 100 per cent oxygen environment) presumably to save spaceship structural weight. I’m guessing if the future lunar spacecraft follow this design, it would be very difficult to play bagpipes and have them sound like anything we hear on the ground without a whole lot of re-design and testing!”
While in the San Francisco area he led the Prince Charles Pipe Band to a win in Grade 2 at the World Pipe Band Championships before committing himself entirely to his studies and work.
Woodley’s 1993 Gold Medal win came during the “Boycott Year” when many of the world’s top civilian solo pipers protested the major gatherings over their decision to keep out prominent judges who had formed the Association of Piping Adjudicators, a sort of union of judges who refused to judge unless certain conditions were met. The APA coalition lost momentum and folded completely a few years later after most of its members broke ranks.
The Canadian Space Agency will announce its choice in May.


  1. Bruce also lead the Prince Charles Pipe Band to its Grade II World Championship title in 2000. Truly an outstanding individual who would most certainly serve the Canadian Space Agency extremely well if given the final nod. Let’s keep our fingers crossed! Way to go, Bruce!!!

  2. Bruce is one of the most intelligent and gifted people I have ever known and seems to excel at everything he attempts. He is a fantastic musician, has been a great leader and teacher, and if selected will make a great astronaut. Good luck Bruce, we’re all behind you!

  3. Bruce’s additions to the article about playing pipes in space are priceless. They prove exactly why he is an excellent choice for the program! Best of luck!!



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