Meet Ireland’s first person bound for space

Cork-born photographer Rhiannon Adam to take off in remarkable artist residency on ‘dear moon’ mission

When Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa announced six artists would join him on a trip to the moon, Cork-born photographer Rhiannon Adam never imagined she would be one of them. “I think I couldn’t quite wrap my head around it,” says Adam. “How did I, little old me, manage to get to this position?”

This six-day round trip is an artist residency like no other. In 2018, SpaceX chief executive Elon Musk offered Maezawa a trip to the moon in exchange for investing in the company’s most ambitious spacecraft, Starship. Maezawa, or MZ, who believes that art has the power to promote world peace, went one step further and decided to pay for six artists to join him on the “dear moon” adventure.

One million people from 129 countries applied to “dear moon” in March 2021. Adam was among them, as was I. “I remember throwing in the application quite close to the deadline,” says Adam. “Then it was the rounds of Zoom calls and interviews, then we had the medical. I was just going with the flow. Then we went to meet MZ, that was fun. And then they asked me for one more Zoom call. MZ came on screen and I was sure it was going to be bad news.”

But the news was good. Adam was the only woman selected as main crew among the eclectic mix of pioneering artists for the “dear moon” mission, also featuring celebrity DJ Steve Aiko (US), documentary filmmaker Brendan Hall (US), American YouTuber Tim Dodd (aka Everyday Astronaut), multidisciplinary Czech Republic creative Yemi A D, UK photographer Karim Illiya, South Korean rapper TOP and Indian actor Dev D Joshi. Back-up crew are Japanese dancer Miyu and US snowboarder Kaitlyn Farrington.


Adam attributes her strong social conscience and connection with the environment to her beginnings in Cork and a nomadic life on a boat. Growing up in Ballinadee, a small town near Bandon, her parents chose the bohemian life. When she was aged seven, they sold up everything and headed off on a life adventure sailing across the world. In her early teens, after her parents separated, Adam chose to return to land and live in London with her aunt. Remaining there ever since, she went on to study art at Central St Martins and developed a successful career as an artist and analogue photographer.

I’m very interested in the kind of psychological transformation that can take place when you’re looking back at the Earth

—  Rhiannon Adam

Ahead of the lunar round-trip, Adam will immerse herself with scientists and astronauts to prepare for her out-of-this-world artistic endeavour. “I really want to be able to make [photographic] work that is developed in space and influenced completely by that environment, not generated and processed later on Earth,” she says.

Has she contemplated the dangers of surviving in the harsh environment of space? “Keeping people alive in space is a really difficult feat,” Adam accepts. “If anything were to go wrong, I think that’s probably the most humbling experience that you can ever have, realising how fragile we are. And how our basic needs exist in this very fragile balance.”

When fully commissioned, Starship will be the largest rocket ever built, and while 2023 has been announced as the launch window for “dear moon”, a realistic date cannot be confirmed. Static fire tests have taken place in recent months, and it is believed that the test flight of the full rocket assembly is imminent.

Like many who have already travelled to space, Adam is also keen to explore how the view it offers of our home planet can lead to a profound shift in perspective. “I’m very interested in the kind of psychological transformation that can take place when you’re looking back at the Earth, which seems so familiar and so close and yet so far,” she says. “And what does that mean for the way that we think about each other?”

This “overview effect”, a term coined by philosopher Frank White, is a realisation of a new perspective of Earth – that our planet is a fragile, living thing and protected by a thin film of atmosphere, and that from space you do not see the borders or countries that we demarcate on maps.

“I think it’s significant in this borderless space to have this person just being authentic,” Adam says. “I just want people to look at me and go, she’s pretty much just like me, actually. If she can do it, I can do it too.”

Dr Niamh Shaw is a scientist, artist and science communicator and the 2021/22 European Space Agency’s Champion in Education