Helen Sharman OBE
would be the first person to describe her background as 'ordinary'
but most people would agree that her achievement as the first British
person in space is quite extraordinary.
Helen was born
on May 30 1963 at Sheffield's Jessop Hospital. The Sharman family
lived at Grenoside (Helen attended Grenoside Junior and Infant School)
then Greenhill. After studying at Jordanthorpe Comprehensive, Helen
gained a Chemistry degree at Sheffield University.
Her first job
was as an engineer for a division of GEC in London and she also
began studying part time for a PhD at Birbeck College, London. In
August 1987, Helen became a Research Technologist for Mars Confectionery,
where part of her job was to study the chemical and physical properties
In June 1989,
while driving home from the Mars factory in Slough, Helen heard
a radio ad that would change her life: 'Astronaut wanted - no experience
necessary.' The only requirements were that applicants should be
British, aged 21-40, with a science background, the ability to learn
a foreign language and a good level of fitness.
Helen beat more than 13,000 applicants to be selected as one of
the final four candidates for the position of UK cosmonaut on the
Soviet space mission Project Juno. She had to undergo weeks of exhaustive
physical and psychological tests but eventually made it down to
the final two candidates.
She was then
sent for 18 months of gruelling training at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut
Training Centre in Moscow's Star City. Helen underwent preparation
for coping with weightlessness, living in a cramped environment,
survival procedures and learning to pilot rocket systems. In May
1991 Helen became the first Briton in space when she spent 8 days
at the Mir Space Station conducting scientific experiments.
Since her return
she has continued to work as a scientist and has become one of the
country's leading ambassadors for science, giving lectures around
the world. Helen is also an accomplished broadcaster, presenting
numerous science based radio and television programmes.
Helen was awarded
the OBE in 1992 and is a fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry,
Royal Aeronautical Society, British Interplanetary Society, Sheffield
Hallam University and senior fellow of the University of Sheffield.
Photographs of Helen Sharman by Phil Dodds.