How the Queen helped Brian May with NASA’s asteroid mission

He plays

  • Brian May holds a PhD in astrophysics.
  • This was not his first collaboration with NASA.
  • May is also credited with writing some of Queen’s most enduring songs.

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NASA’s first-ever mission to deliver an asteroid sample to Earth is remarkable in many ways. One of them includes the legendary guitarist of one of the most famous rock bands on the planet: Brian May of Queen.

May, who has a PhD in astrophysics, is credited with helping map the asteroid Bennu as part of the OSIRIS-REx mission, a mission launched by NASA in 2016 to fly into outer space and retrieve a sample from Bennu.

The capsule carrying the sample is scheduled to touch down in the Utah desert on September 24.

How did the project evolve?

May worked with a scientist named Claudia Manzoni for several years to create realistic 3D images, called stereos, from images posted online from various space missions. May’s company, the London Stereoscope Company, makes a special lens for viewing stereoscopic images.

May sent OSIRIS-REx mission director Dante Lauretta some stereos made from OSIRIS-REx images.

“He was amazed,” May told in a recent interview. He added, “He said: ‘I’ve never seen it this way before. It’s a great tool and might be able to help us find the landing site we need to get that sample safely.'”

May worked with Manzoni, Loretta and others to map Bennu and help find a landing area for the probe that collected the sample, according to the University of Arizona Press, which published the images in a book in July. Bennu 3-D, Anatomy of an Asteroid was co-authored by six co-authors, including Mai, Loretta, and Manzoni.

Astrophysicist Dr. Brian May was introduced during New Horizons' science conference on July 17, 2015 at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. May spent a long weekend with the science team, attending two morning science sessions, meeting with the student dust control group, and working on Stereo images of Pluto with the Geology, Geophysics and Imaging (GGI) team.  (NASA/Joel Koski)

Astrophysicist and rock legend Brian May is introduced during the New Horizons Science Conference July 17, 2015 at NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC.

(Image credit: NASA/Joel Koski)

From Rockstar to the world of astrophysicists

May graduated from Imperial College London with a degree in Physics and Mathematics before forming Queen in 1970 with lead singer Freddie Mercury and guitarist Roger Taylor, according to his IMDB bio. He obtained his Ph.D. from college in 2007.

Pino’s effort wasn’t May’s first engagement with NASA. And in 2015, he was named a science collaborator on NASA’s New Horizons mission, which sent a spacecraft to fly by Pluto. May created the first high-resolution stereoscopic image of Pluto.

“I’m out of NASA, and nobody pays me, but I love it,” May told

He is also credited as the songwriter on several of Queen’s most enduring songs, including “We Will Rock You”, “I Want It All” and “Who Wants To Live Forever”.

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