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As a young chemist working for Mars chocolate, the last thing Helen Sharman ever expected to do was to go into space. But in 1991, that’s exactly what she did, beating 13,000 other applicants to become Britain’s first astronaut. 


helen science fest


Now 56 but looking very young for her age, Helen was at the Science Festival to share her story with a Town Hall full to bursting with space fans, young and old.

Petite, with boundless energy and enthusiasm, Helen told us all about her remarkable experience, from when she first heard a radio advert announce the search for astronauts (no experience necessary) to her training alongside Russian astronauts at Star City and subsequent launch in the Soyuz rocket to the Mir space station, where she spent eight days carrying out experiments and research.

She fitted all the criteria for the job, which included having a science background, being healthy and fit and also being good at learning languages. The latter condition was pretty important, considering the first instructor she met taught her Russian by way of French, as he spoke no English at all.

The Soviet-British mission nicknamed Project Juno was a success, despite the auto docking procedure filing to work when they reached Mir, meaning her fellow astronauts had to manually dock the ship, a very tricky and dangerous manoeuvre.

Helen was 27 years and 11 months when she went into space, making her one of the youngest of the more than 500 individuals who have flown into space.

Since then, she has taught at university, written an autobiography and a children’s book, and presented radio and TV programmes.

But it’s clear that her time as an astronaut is not surprisingly the stand-out moment of her career, one which she is just as enthusiastic and excited about now as she was half a lifetime ago.



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