Dr Niamh Shaw is an actor, artist-in-residence and space enthusiast, who’s currently experiencing what Ryan Tubridy described as her “spatial mardi gras”. Because, let’s face it, this is a great time to be a ‘space enthusiast’. On 17 July 1969, Apollo 11 was speeding towards the moon and celebrations that have been in preparation for a long time are building up to what should be their peak on Sunday, when, 50 years ago, Armstrong and Aldrin moonwalked long before Sting or Michael Jackson.
“The whole space community has been preparing for this for at least a year. We’ve been racking our heads and thinking about what different things can we do and what different events can we have.”
The moon landing was an accomplishment that had a profound and inspirational effect, according to Niamh, and not just on the scientific community, but also on artists and philosophers.
“It really changed our thinking about what we can possibly do if we set our minds to it.”
It’s also a rarity in these troubled times – a positive story. And, at a time when there were far fewer screens in our lives than there are now, half a billion people tuned in to watch the moon landing.
“I don’t think there’s been a moment since that everybody has united that way.”
The space race was responsible for much of the modern items we now take for granted. Niamh listed some examples for Ryan: satellites, which enable modern communication; the camera sensor in all our phones; trainers; freeze-dried food; the addition of algae to enhance baby formula (it doesn’t sound like an enhancement, but apparently it is); the technology behind cat scans; foil blankets – it’s a long list. And all those things – and much more, of course – have their origins in the relatively-primitive technology that was used to get astronauts to the moon in the 1960s and 70s.
“So NASA had developed this sort of mantra, ‘faster, cheaper, better’, and so it pushed the best minds in the world to think about new innovation… and that’s kind of become the mantra of innovation right across the world.”
At an event in the Kennedy Space Centre yesterday, Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins, told reporters that the next step was Mars. Ryan asked Niamh if that was an achievable goal. Yes, was the short answer. But it will only happen after we go back to the moon.
“Because it’s easier to make mistakes when you’re only two or three days away on the moon, than you would be heading to Mars, which is at least seven months away.”
The Apollo50 celebrations continue all this week, including with Niamh at Blackrock Castle Observatory this Friday and Sunday. And if you’re a wealthy business person, you might like to consider funding a trip into space for Niamh, because, as Ryan told her, “we need you up there”. Not sure how she should take that…
You can hear Ryan’s full chat with Niamh, as well as the rest of The Ryan Tubridy Show here.
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