Iron Maiden Gets Backstage Pass to NASA
Members of the English heavy metal band Iron Maiden stopped by NASA for a visit around the astronaut headquarters. L to R - Michael J. Massimino (Astronaut), Bruce Dickinson (vocalist and Airline Captain), Nicko McBrain (drummer).
Credit: PRNewsFoto/Universal Music Enterprises

The heavy metal rockers behind the British band Iron Maiden invaded NASA's astronaut headquarters this month for an all-access look at how Americans practice for flying in space.

Four members of the iconic heavy metal band scoped out space station mock-ups and a space shuttle simulator during a VIP tour of NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Astronaut Michael Massimino, a veteran of three space shuttle flights, hosted the Iron Maiden band members, who were in Houston as part of their "Final Frontier Tour" of North America, with shows in Dallas, Houston and San Antonio. The band follows a long line of dignitaries who have visited the space center, included their Queen Elizabeth II, who stopped by in 2007.

"Having a visit from Iron Maiden was great fun," Massimino said in a statement. "It was a pleasure to meet them and they are big fans of the space program. It was an honor for NASA to host them and a big morale boost for the entire NASA team to have Iron Maiden at the space center."

Massimino rolled out NASA's red carpet for Iron Maiden on June 16. On Twitter, where he writes about life as an astronaut under the name Astro_Mike, Massimino said Iron Maiden is "a fun bunch of dudes and big space program fans." [Astronauts reveal space toilet secrets.]

Iron Maiden vocalist Bruce Dickinson said meeting Massimino was a treat.

"We appear to have a lot of fans at NASA, and it was a real pleasure to meet some of them, especially, of course, a bona fide astronaut who has made a number of spacewalks," he said. "Hearing first hand of Michael's experiences was fascinating."

Massimino gave the heavy metal musicians a look the various training simulators typically reserved for astronauts at the Johnson Space Center, including a look at some older spacecraft.

"He took us round the space station and shuttle and up close to the incredible Saturn 5 rocket," Dickinson said. "Fans working in the Mission Control room had even put up pictures of the band on the huge screens where you would normally see the rockets taking off!"

For Dickinson, what most resonated from the visit was the poignancy of being in the room where the Apollo moon landings were directed.

"The highlight was unquestionably the Apollo Room, from where the moon landings were coordinated," Dickinson said. "Looking at the relative simplicity of the equipment compared to today, it is amazing how they managed to pull it off."

The rockers also got to join in a little fun at the famous space center.

"Each of us even got to take off, fly and land the space shuttle on the simulator, a real thrill," Dickinson said. "We felt very privileged and hope that Michael and our NASA fans enjoyed our Houston show as much as we enjoyed our visit with them."

Following the North American Tour, the band will then shift over to Europe for a series of major festival and stadium shows before taking some time off and returning to tour more countries in 2011.