Dr Niamh Shaw recognised as ‘ESA champion’ for space education work

6 Apr 2022

Dr Niamh Shaw on a training mission outside of the Mars Desert Research Station in 2017. Image: Niamh Shaw

Shaw was awarded the title for her work in education and finding creative ways to teach people about Europe’s missions in space.

Dr Niamh Shaw has been named as a ‘champion’ by the European Space Agency (ESA) for her contributions to communicating about space.

Shaw is one of 15 people to get this commendation by the ESA and is Ireland’s only space expert to receive the title.

The ESA Champions initiative was set-up last year to honour outstanding contributions to space advocacy in Europe. The initiative recognised individuals across five categories, which were video, art, education, storytelling and public speaking.

Shaw is an engineer, science communicator and lecturer at the International Space University in Strasbourg. She received the ESA award in the education category, recognising her outreach work and STEM activities.

The Irish scientist works closely with school children, young people and local communities through a variety of projects to share her knowledge and enthusiasm about space exploration and how it benefits life on Earth. She interviewed former NASA astronaut Joan Higginbotham at Silicon Republic’s Future Human event in 2020.

“I’m honoured to be awarded the title of ESA champion,” Shaw said. “It is wonderful to be recognised by my space agency.

“I will continue to share my enthusiasm for space exploration with as many people as possible. It is hugely beneficial to humanity and life on Earth, and we must continue to learn and discover.”

Shaw was recently at the NASA Kennedy Space Centre to report on the wet dress rehearsals for the Artemis I test flight.

She has also gotten a taste of life in space herself. In 2017, Shaw took part in a training exercise at the Mars Desert Research Station to experience – as close as possible – the living conditions on the planet. Shaw was the six-person crew’s journalist and artist in residence, documenting their time in some very enclosed spaces.

In 2018, she shared with SiliconRepublic.com her first-hand experience of travelling more than 4,000 km to Baikonur, a Russian-run site in the middle of Kazakhstan, for her very first rocket launch.

As part of her outreach work, Shaw was an honorary ambassador for the Irish Girl Guides between 2019 and 2020, and was a guest speaker at the launch of the group’s space programme in 2020.

10 things you need to know direct to your inbox every weekday. Sign up for the Daily Brief, Silicon Republic’s digest of essential sci-tech news.

Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic