Niamh completes mars mission
Budding astronaut Niamh Shaw has just signed off from a simulated Mars mission in the Utah desert, where she had spent the last three weeks.
Niamh spoke to the Argus yesterday (Monday) as she headed back to Dundalk to visit family following her 'out of this world' trip.
'It was an incredible experience, surreal, but amazing,' said Niamh, who even got to fly the Irish flag as she battled the tough terrain in a space suit.
One of a team of five who took part in the all important research mission for Mars exploration, the Dundalk woman said it was the everyday, practical challenges that worried her most before she headed to the 'hub' in the middle of the Utah desert.
'When we took over from the previous crew, we learned the toilet facilities were backed up, and I soon had to adapt to not being able to shower. I only got to once the whole time! We had to preserve every last bit of water, and monitor our usage very closely.'
Sleep, too, was a luxury during the mission, as high altitude and gas fired heating provided little room for comfort.
'But, it gave me a real indication I think of what it would be like taking part in a real mission.
Every time we went outside at all we had to put the full suit and helmet on. I had never worn one before, so it took help from the crew to get suited up every time.'
Relying on each of her colleagues was something Niamh learned would be vital to the mission's success.
'We all got on so well. We had each other's back, and supported one another when we needed too. Plus one of the guys was a really good cook, which helped us to survive the dried packet food!'
As a scientist and artist, it was Niamh's role to document the trip, taking pictures and filing updates on their progress.
In such a changeable climate, that often proved difficult.
'The weather was really hard to predict. But it was winter, and we did have snow one day.
There were times when it was difficult taking pictures as if your helmet got fogged up at all you were blinded for a time.'
But with determination, and she adds, the joy in actually being able to take part in such an extraordinary project, Niamh made use of every day on the simulated Mars mission.
'I am really looking forward to being able to speak about my experiences,' adds Niamh, who works on educating and inspiring children to discover the wonder of space travel.
'Now that I'm back home, I really am proud of myself for having done this. I really have a sense of achievement that made it all worthwhile.'
And, she hastens to add, the challenges of being part of stargazing crew didn't deter her from her ultimate goal - to be the first Irish woman to go into space!