Did you ever want to be an astronaut???

I totally did! Not as a young child but more so as an adult. I’m fascinated space. It’s sheer vastness is so appealing to me.

If like me you grew in the 80’s watching ‘Back to the Future’, ‘The Jetsons’, ‘Flight of the Navigator’ & ‘E.T’ (to name but a few!) then, like me, who else thought that by 2020 we would be either a- living in space or b- taking holidays on mars??? At the very least taking space shuttle trips to view the moon! But nope, it’s just not happened! Let down!!! As a child I was never that interested in space. I liked to gaze at the stars through my telescope with my Dad. He was an avid star gazer and would spend time teaching me the constellations! Something he now loves to do with my boys!

But it wasn’t until I was teaching a class of 4-5 year olds that I found out more about Helen Sharman, first British person in space. As a class we were studying space. During a discussion with the children, one of them made a comment that ‘only boys can be astronauts, so only boys can go to space’. Wrong move kid! I decided to veer off topic and spend some time teaching them about Helen Sharman and her trip to space! *side note- from that point on I made an effort to ensure the topics we studied showed a fair & equal representation of men and women!

My childhood was fairly normal and mundane……

Helen describes her childhood, growing up in Sheffield, as normal and mundane! She enjoyed school, particularly science. At one point she was warned off studying science, told she would be ‘the only girl in the class’. But this didn’t phase Helen! On she went to gain a BA in Chemistry and then a PhD! When I found out one of her first jobs was working for Mars Confectionery, investigating the properties of flavours in chocolate I knew Helen and I, should we ever meet, would get on fabulously!

In November 1989, her life was about to become anything but mundane!! Helen Sharman responded to a radio advert asking for willing volunteers to take part in a space expedition with the Soviet Union- Project Juno. The chosen British Citizen would visit the space station Mir and conduct important research. Helen found out she had been selected live on air, during a TV show! So 80’s gameshow!! Although she was a sound researcher, engineer and chemist, Helen had to undertake 18 months of rigorous training to prepare for her time in space. She talks of this training as growling, but satisfying! How many of us would describe running a business in this way?!? She finally launched into space on 18th May 1991, along with two Soviet Cosmonauts.

Earth looks beautiful from up high…

Helen describes there being “no greater beauty than seeing earth from up high”. I’d certainly love to see that sight! I also love that Helen absolutely agrees with me, that aliens do exist! She believes that there is no way we can be the only life in such vastness! But during her trip to space she was tasked with medical and agricultural research rather than alien communicating! Shame!

Helen was never picked again to venture into space, despite staying on the space program until 1998. One thing that strikes me is her grace when it comes to Tim Peake. Tim has been mistakenly described many times as the first Brit in space. Helen talks about this (taken from an interview in the Guardian 5/1/20)

I’ve never defined myself by gender. People often describe me as the first British Women in space, but I was actually the first British PERSON. It was telling that we would otherwise assume it was a man. When Tim Peake went into space some people simply forgot about me. A man going first would be the norm, I’m thrilled I got to upset that norm!

Link to interview

Helen continues to promote girls in science, famously saying ” You can’t be what you can’t see”. The exact reason I decided to blow those little kids minds by sharing with them the story of a woman who went to space!!!! As we are currently in lockdown and I’m educating my son’s at home I used the writing of this blog as an opportunity to share Helen’s story with my youngest! He is a keen star gazer!

Yesterday I read an article in which Helen shares her tips for dealing with isolation during this strange time we are all experiencing. She talks about how being able to use the radio (no sat phones in her day!) to communicate with love ones was important to her. She also talks of how we can sometimes take our freedoms for granted, something that hugely resonates with me right now. Take a read yourself here- link to the interview on Royal Society of Chemistry website.

Stay safe, take care of each other and wash your hands! V xx

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