Helen Sharman OBE
Helen Sharman is a British scientist and astronaut, who became the first Briton in space in 1991 when she launched on a Soyuz spacecraft to spend 8 days orbiting the Earth.
After responding to a radio advertisement asking for applicants, Helen was one of two Britons selected for astronaut training ahead of nearly 13,000 other applicants. The programme was a cooperative arrangement between the Soviet Union and a British company that was set up to manage the Mission.
Helen was subjected to a rigorous selection process that focussed on psychological and medical assessments, technical understanding and practical skills as well as the ability to learn a foreign language. Then came 18 months intensive flight training in Star City near Moscow, where learning to speak Russian and getting to know the cosmonauts’ families were parts of a new way of life.
During the launch, she carried out certain spacecraft operations and once in space, her tasks included medical, agricultural and chemical experiments, materials’ testing, Earth observation work and an amateur radio link with British school students, fitting in media interviews and a phone conversation with President Gorbachev. Coping with risk was a daily activity and team work was a vital element in the success of the Mission.
Helen was 27 years and 11 months old when she became an astronaut. She has not returned to space, although she says that, like every other astronaut, she would love to be up there again, experiencing the weightlessness, the camaraderie and the views.
Following her space flight, Helen became a science communicator and corporate speaker, winning prizes for radio and television programmes and giving inspirational talks around the world on teamwork and motivation. Some of the science teachers she meets now were inspired to study science after hearing her talk about her spaceflight; some people have changed their whole lives after listening to Helen talk.
Helen believes, “We should push forward not only our own individual boundaries but also the boundaries of what humans believe is possible. People are the biggest limitations in our own lives. There's a huge amount we can do and we should make the best use of our lives for the benefit of the world.”
Helen Sharman OBE, MA, CChem (Hon) FRSC, MSCI, FRAeS, FBIS, FRGS, FIScT