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Helen Sharman OBE

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Helen Sharman is the first British Astronaut. In May 1991, she launched on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft and spent 8 days orbiting the Earth, living and working on the MIR Space Station. Helen was selected from 13,000 applicants: she didn’t think she stood a chance of being chosen, but she was exactly the right person - calm, practical, friendly and professional.

A superb speaker, Helen enthuses her audience about Space, STEM and the wonders of science. She describes the meticulous training and preparation, learning Russian, the launch and landing, how weightlessness feels, her science experiments, the team spirit, and adjusting to life back on Earth.

Awarded the OBE in 1993, Helen Sharman is a full-time scientist, a pioneer, a role model for young people (of all ages!) and an inspiration.

Helen is invited to speak globally at corporate, public, government, academic and school events. Depending on the brief, she includes a wide range of topics including Living in Space, training to be an astronaut, and teamwork, leadership, communication and motivation. These relate to her career, training and experience, which she combines with her management experience. 

Her presentation includes slides, many of which she took herself during her time on MIR.

In his Foreword to Helen’s autobiography Seize The Moment, Arthur C Clarke writes “Her account of the hours before the launch and the actual sensations during ascent into orbit is so gripping that any reader will feel a vicarious involvement. This is exactly what it must be like”.

On 15 December 2015, Britain’s second astronaut Major Time Peake began his mission to the International Space Station (ISS). Helen was invited to join Professor Brian Cox and Dara Ó’Briain to commentate on the live docking of the Soyuz rocket with the ISS on BBC TV’s Stargazing Live. She was invited back again on 18 June 2016 for Tim Peake’s safe return to Earth.

Following her own space flight, Helen became a science communicator and corporate speaker. She won numerous prizes for radio and television programmes and for her inspirational talks worldwide on teamwork, STEM, science communication and motivation. 

Helen often meets science teachers who were inspired to study Science after hearing Helen: her speech changed them, and now they pass on their passion and expertise to the next generations of young scientists and engineers. 

Helen believes “We should push forward, not only our 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.”

Responding to a radio advertisement, Helen was one of only two Britons selected for astronaut training. 13,000 people applied and she didn’t think she stood a chance of being chosen. But she was just the type of calm, steady, practical, friendly, professional they were looking for. The programme, named Project Juno, was a co-operative arrangement between the Soviet Union and a British company set up to manage the Mission.

She underwent a rigorous selection process with psychological and medical assessments, technical understanding and practical skills. This was followed by 18 months of intensive flight training in Star City near Moscow, where she learned to speak Russian and got to know the cosmonauts’ families, along with preparing for weightlessness, learning how to cope inside a cramped space capsule, G Forces, how to deal with a landing in the sea and training for all the possible things which might happen in a spacecraft, in orbit, at 17,500 miles an hour.

During the launch, Helen carried out spacecraft operations. Once in space, her tasks included medical, agricultural and chemical experiments, materials’ testing, Earth observation work and operating an amateur radio link with British school students. Fitted in with this were her media interviews and an unexpected live telephone conversation with President Mikhail Gorbachev. 

Coping with risk was a daily activity. Teamwork was a vital element in the success of the Mission. Helen was not quite 28 years old when she became an astronaut. Helen has not returned to Space although, like every other astronaut, she would love to be up in Space again, experiencing the weightlessness, the camaraderie and the views.

Born in Sheffield, Helen Sharman received her BSc in Chemistry at Sheffield University. She worked in Research & Development for GEC before moving to Mars Confectionery, where she became a Research Technologist working on chocolate and ice cream. More recently, Helen managed a research group at the National Physical Laboratory in London. She now works full-time at the Department of Chemistry, Imperial College University of London.

Helen recorded the Audioguide for the acclaimed Cosmonauts exhibition at the Science Museum, London.

In July 2015, she spoke at a special event for children (of all ages!) at the Royal Institution in London. Co-presented by TV presenter Dallas Campbell, To Infinity and Beyond: the story of the spacesuit included part of Helen’s own spacesuit, generously loaned by the National Space Centre in Leicester.

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