TO SPACE Niamh Shaw

Dr Niamh Shaw’s To Space interweaves the informative with the personal in this performance lecture on the impossible enormity of space and one woman’s impossible(?) dream to see it for herself. In the apt setting of Summerhall’s Anatomy Lecture Theatre, Shaw positions us in the known universe, upon a blue speck in the void, and within the history of astronomical discovery – our present moment. As she does, she tells the story of her dream of becoming an astronaut, from her first encounter with Han Solo at the age of eight, to her visit to the European Space Agency last year at the age of forty-five. 

To Space questions how the individual’s pursuit of the ‘elite dream’ - only 536 people have ever been to space – enables frontline scientific advancement. Shaw herself stumbles in her anecdotal narrative when considering the myriad risks of astronautics, and in doing so asks the question: how do we value the human in advancing humanity? This is highlighted most discomfortingly in Shaw’s discussion of the two embryonic plans to set up a colony on Mars: NASA/ESA’s, set for 2037 (waiting for technology to advance enough to bring colonisers back to Earth); and Mars-One, projected optimistically for 2025, in the knowledge that those sent will die on Mars.

Unlike NASA’s elite entry requirements, Mars-One accepted applications from 200,000 civilians from various backgrounds - Shaw is evidently not alone in being seduced by the promise of extraterrestrial travel. But the metaphor offered by her live whey protein and glycerol experiment remains problematic: is individual suffering (however consensual) in the name of ‘giant leaps’ more ethically complex than “making the useless useful”? (HM)

TO SPACE, Niamh Shaw, 11-17, 19-24, 26-30, Summerhall Anatomy Lecture Theatre, Wheelchair Access and Level Access.

More about Dr Niamh Shaw:!niamh-shaw/cfe5


Chris Chambers in The Guardian: