Helen Sharman CMG OBE London, UK
- Britain's first astronaut
- Faculty Technical Manager for Science, Engineering and Computing, Kingston University (2013-present)
- Leading communicator of science, teamwork and motivation
Helen Sharman is a pioneer, a role model for young people (of all ages!) and world-class inspirational speaker. She became the first British Astronaut when in May 1991, aged 27, she launched on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft. She spent 8 days orbiting the Earth, living and working on the MIR Space Station*. (*In the modern Russian language, “Mir” can be translated as “peace” or “world”.) Helen will celebrate her 30th Anniversary in May 2021.
She was selected from over 13,000 applicants but didn’t think she stood a chance of being chosen when she applied, after hearing an advert on the radio on her way home after work. Two people were chosen for the rigorous training but only one – Helen – went into Space. But Helen was exactly the right person – calm, practical, friendly, professional and a team player.
A superb speaker, Helen enthuses her audience about Space, STEM and the wonders of science. She describes the meticulous training and preparation, learning Russian, launch and landing, how weightlessness feels, her science experiments, the team spirit, and readjusting to life on Earth.
She’s invited to speak globally at corporate, public, government, academic and school events. Depending on the brief, she can include a wide variety of topics including Living in Space, training to be an astronaut, teamwork, leadership, communication and motivation. Her presentation includes slides, many of which she took herself during her time on MIR. Her new book for children is due for publication in Autumn 2020.
Helen Sharman was awarded the OBE in 1993. In the New Year Honours List of 2018, she was further awarded a rare and special honour, being made a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG) for services to Science and Technology Educational Outreach. She received the CMG from Her Majesty The Queen at Windsor Castle in February 2018.
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 Tim Peake began his mission to the International Space Station (ISS). Helen joined Professor Brian Cox and Dara Ó’Briain on BBC TV’s Stargazing Live to follow the live docking of the Soyuz rocket with the ISS. She was invited back on 18 June 2016 for Tim’s safe return to Earth. In 2019, Helen is the UK’s go-to person for TV, radio and media comment on the first Lunar Landings (Neil Armstrong & Buzz Aldrin: Apollo 11: 20 July 1969). When SpaceX launched in late May 2020, Helen was on hand to offer her own insights and experience, invited by broadcasters worldwide for TV and radio interviews. After MIR, Helen became a science communicator and corporate speaker, winning numerous prizes for radio and TV programmes and for her inspirational talks on teamwork, STEM, science communication and motivation.
Helen often meets teachers who were inspired to study Science after hearing her speak: her speech changed them, and now they pass on their passion and expertise to new generations of young scientists and engineers.
After selection, Helen first had to learn Russian, as all the training was conducted in the Russian language, and undergoing 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. She got to know the cosmonauts and their 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 scenarios which might happen in a spacecraft, in orbit, travelling at 17,500 miles an hour.
The programme, named Project Juno, was a co-operative arrangement between the Soviet Union and a British company set up to manage the Mission. Coping with risk was a daily activity. Teamwork was a vital element in the success of the Mission.
During the launch, Helen carried out spacecraft operations. On board MIR, her tasks included medical, agricultural and chemical experiments, testing materials, Earth observation work and operating an amateur radio link with British school students. Media interviews including an unexpected live telephone conversation with the Russian President, Mikhail Gorbachev.
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.”
Helen has not returned to Space. But, like every other astronaut, she would love to go to Space again, experiencing the weightlessness, the camaraderie ……… and the amazing and beautiful views of Earth and the stars.
Helen Sharman received her BSc in Chemistry at Sheffield University. She worked in Research & Development for GEC before moving to Mars Confectionery as a Research Technologist working on chocolate and ice cream.
Later, Helen managed a research group at the National Physical Laboratory in London.
She now works part-time on science outreach the Department of Chemistry, Imperial College, University of London.
Helen spoke at a special event for children (aged 5-95!) at the Royal Institution in London 2015. Co-presented by TV presenter Dallas Campbell, the event was entitled To Infinity and Beyond: the story of the spacesuit and it included part of Helen’s own spacesuit, generously loaned by the National Space Centre in Leicester.
She also took part in the sell-out 2019 Christmas Science Shambles event at the Apollo, London, appearing onstage with Tim Peake, Chris Hadfield, Robin Ince and Professor Brian Cox
Helen recorded the Audioguide for the acclaimed Cosmonauts exhibition at the Science Museum, London.
Awards, Medals and Honours
Helen Sharman was awarded the OBE for her pioneering work in 1993.
In the New Years Honours List 2018, she was further awarded a rare and special honour, being made a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG) for services to Science and Technology Educational Outreach.
She is an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry (Hon FRSC), Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society (FRAes): Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society (FRGS), a Fellow of the Institute of Science and Technology (FIScT), a Chartered Chemist (CChem), awarded by the Royal Society of Chemistry. She received Honorary Degrees from eight Universities including Hull and Sheffield. In 2015, Helen was appointed President of the IST (Institute of Science and Technology), where she makes a significant contribution to the technical community. She was a Patron of Spacelink Learning Foundation and an active member of the Association of Space Explorers (members must have completed a full orbit of the Earth to qualify!).
She was awarded the Friendship of the Soviet People Medal from the Soviet Union and the Medal for Services to Space from Russia.
A space suit worn by Helen is on display at the National Space Centre in Leicester, England. For her accomplishments in Project Juno, Helen received a star on the Sheffield Walk of Fame.
Helen is such an inspiring and engaging role model for young people, so many schools have named Houses, Science Centres and Laboratories after her, including in London, Kent, Rugby, Leeds and Hartlepool and in Europe.