Ad Astra…Closer Than Ever

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The International Space Station is an orbiting laboratory, an extraterrestrial base for learning how to live and work in a remote, isolated, and confined environment to prepare for exploring other planets. It celebrates its 20th anniversary in November. Most of us feel as if we have gone through some initial astronaut training: lockdown proved that ongoing confinement and isolation suits some better than others, with many enjoying life in their own Milton-sealed bubble.

Others pondered the truth the current pandemic is the result of planetary retrogrades, according to the gospel of astrologist Susan Miller. Space, literally or symbolically, seems to be trending – in fashion, jewellery and scent. Beyoncé, Adele and Dua Lipa are three terrestrial stars seen wearing Marine Serre’s crescent moon prints this summer, skyrocketing the fledgling French label’s visibility. Celestial symbols, meanwhile, predominate in jewellery collections from high street to haute couture. Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli were early adopters of cosmic collections; I love the minimal new moon circle and coin designs of Belfast-based jeweller, Rebekah Johanson, of Lines & Current. Johanson’s inspiration: “The moon is a symbol many women can relate to as we move through life; from busy to stillness, from periods of darkness to lighter times.” Prada reckons moonlight smells like leathery chocolate, figs and spice, while By Kilian’s Moonlight in Heaven is a more piquant mix of pink pepper, coconut, tonka bean and vetiver.

Who didn’t clutch a talisman while watching the two American “space dads” splashing down in Space X’s Crew Dragon capsule, which launched in May? Their successful two-month test mission to the ISS heralded a new era in space flights increasing the opportunities for civilians to fly to space – space tourism is now a reality.

Most of us feel as if we have gone through some initial astronaut training: lockdown proved that ongoing confinement and isolation suits some better than others, with many enjoying life in their own Milton-sealed bubble.

Someone who is desperate to leave earth is Irish scientist Niamh Shaw, author of Dream Big, whose aim is “to earn a spot on an official mission as crew communicator in space”. A key part of realising her goal is hosting events such as the recent Galaxy Squad during the Festival of Curiosity. Shaw also provides regular Space Hub segments for RTÉ’s Home School Hub, reflecting an increase in Irish interest and activity. “In recent years, Ireland has been consistently carving out its own place in the space sector. As well as universities and research groups engaging in European Space Agency contracts, the commercial sector has also been growing. EnBio Ireland developed a novel heat shield coating for the recently launched ESA Solar Orbiter mission to the sun.

Other Irish involvement on that same mission included Dublin-based software company CAPTEC and Professor Peter Gallagher, Head of Dublin Institute of Advanced Physics Astrophysics, co-investigator on one of the scientific instruments onboard the spacecraft. EIRSAT-1 is a project under development by University College Dublin to build, launch and operate an Irish satellite.” As for the next phase of Shaw’s own plan, she is heading to NASA Kennedy Space Centre in Florida this autumn to further share the story of SpaceX Crew Dragon and she is confident in space tourism’s future. Virgin Galactic, of course, continues to offer civilians a 40-minute suborbital flight approximately 100 kms above earth at a cost of $250,000. Says Shaw, “As long as you are wealthy, space is open for business.”

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