First British Astronaut in Space and Inspirational speaker
Helen Sharman is a pioneer, role model, science communicator and world-class inspirational speaker. She became the first British Astronaut in May 1991, aged 27, when she spent 8 days orbiting the Earth
Helen didn’t think she stood the smallest chance of being selected when she applied, after hearing an advert on the car radio on her way home from work. Over 13,000 other people also applied for this one-off opportunity.
But Helen was exactly the type of person they were looking for – calm, practical, friendly, professional, a team player. Two people were chosen for the rigorous training but only one – Helen – went into Space.
Before starting her training, Helen underwent the rigorous selection process with psychological and medical assessments, technical understanding and practical skills. This was followed by 18 months of intensive spaceflight training, which included learning Russian, preparing for “feeling weightless” and g-force, learning how to cope inside a cramped space capsule, how to deal with a landing in the sea and training for all possible scenarios (positive and negative) which might happen when in orbit, travelling at 17,500 miles an hour.
Helen carried out spacecraft operations during the launch. On board the Space Station, her tasks included medical, agricultural and chemical experiments, materials testing, Earth observation work and operating an amateur radio link with British school students. Media interviews were a frequent occurrence.
Coping with risk was a daily activity. Teamwork was a vital element for success. Helen Sharman has not returned to space. But, like every other astronaut, she would love to go to space again, to experience the feeling of weightlessness, the camaraderie …. and the amazing and beautiful views of Earth and the stars.
After her successful spaceflight, Helen chose to become a science communicator and speaker. She has won numerous prizes for radio and TV programmes and for her inspirational talks on teamwork, STEM, science communication and motivation.
She often meets teachers who were inspired to study science after hearing her speak: her speech changed their lives, and now they pass on their passion and expertise to new generations of young scientists and engineers.
Helen was awarded the OBE in 1993. In the New Year Honours List 2018, she was further awarded a rare 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 2018. In October 2020, Helen celebrated Space Week at the National Space Centre, Leicester, with HRH The Countess of Wessex.
In his Foreword to Helen’s book Seize The Moment, Arthur C Clarke wrote: “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 Tim’s rocket with the ISS. She was invited back on 18 June 2016 for Tim’s safe return to Earth.
In 2019, Helen was 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 May 2020, Helen was invited by broadcasters for worldwide TV and radio interviews, to share her own insights and experience.
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 Sharman managed a research group at the National Physical Laboratory in London. She now works part-time as the UK Outreach Ambassador for Imperial College London.
Helen spoke at a special event for children at the Royal Institution in London 2015. Co-presented by TV presenter Dallas Campbell, To Infinity and Beyond: the story of the spacesuit included part of Helen’s own spacesuit, kindly loaned by the National Space Centre in Leicester. She 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 and in subsequent “Shambles” events since then.
Helen recorded the Audioguide for the acclaimed Cosmonauts exhibition at the Science Museum, London.
Helen hosts the Zero Pressure podcast, a relaxed conversation with people on the cutting edge, looking at how science and technology can contribute to solving complex, interrelated global challenges of today and tomorrow.
In April 2021, Helen accepted the invitation from The Royal Osteoporosis Society to become an Ambassador for that charity, with her interest in bone health in adults of all ages. Much of the research into bone health is being carried out through experiments in Space.
Helen is President of the IST (Institute of Science and Technology), making a significant contribution to the technical community. She is an active member of the Association of Space Explorers (members must complete a full orbit of the Earth to qualify for membership!).
The space-suit worn by Helen is on display at the Science Museum in London. Her flight suit, worn in space, is on display with some of her other space-flown artefacts in the National Space Centre in Leicester.
For her accomplishments in Project Juno, Helen Sharman received a star on the Sheffield Walk of Fame.
A superb speaker, Helen Sharman enthuses her audience about Space, STEM and the wonders of science. She takes them on her journey, as she describes aspects of the meticulous training, preparation, launch and landing, how weightlessness feels, her science experiments, the team spirit and readjusting to life back on Earth.
Invited to speak worldwide at corporate, public, government, academic and school events, her presentation can include a wide variety of topics including: Living in Space, astronaut training, teamwork, leadership, communication, collaboration and motivation
Her presentation may include slides, some of which she took herself during her training and spaceflight.
“An absolutely brilliant speaker, who engaged the whole Tees Valley and so many young people. Superb!”
— Mark Tilling, Headteacher, High Tunstall College of Science
“The feedback from our event has been overwhelming. You proved a huge hit and very inspiring. We were so thrilled that you were able to join us and even more delighted by your words of wisdom, all delivered in a beautifully self-deprecating way and with a great sense of humour.”
— Leading investment bank, London
“Helen’s presentation was fascinating and very absorbing. Her personal manner and ease belied her powerful message.”
— West Sussex FWI
“Helen was approachable, inspiring, engaging and entertaining – excellent! We would highly recommend her”
— Ms Bee Hughes, Headmistress, The Maynard School, Exeter