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18 May  
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1991: Sharman becomes first Briton in space
Britain's first astronaut, 27-year-old Helen Sharman from Sheffield, has blasted into orbit.

The Soviet Soyuz TM-12 space capsule made a textbook launch from the Baikonur cosmodrome in the Soviet republic of Kazakhstan at 1350 BST carrying Miss Sharman and fellow cosmonauts Anatoly Artebartsky and Sergei Krikalyov.

Astronaut wanted. No experience necessary
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Her parents and sister watched from a viewing stand one kilometre away and saw their daughter smile and wave to the onboard camera.

She carries with her a photograph of the Queen, a butterfly brooch given to her by her father and a "space passport" in case her spacecraft is forced to land outside the Soviet Union.

Woman from Mars

Miss Sharman, a former chemist for the Mars chocolate company, had won her place in space in 1989 after answering an advertisement she heard on the car radio - "Astronaut wanted. No experience necessary."

She was eventually selected from over 13,000 applicants to be the British member of the Russian scientific space mission, Project Juno.

The USSR has already taken a Mongolian, an Afghan, a Cuban, a Syrian and a Japanese journalist to space.

She spent 18 gruelling months training in Star City, 30km north-east of Moscow and now speaks fluent Russian. She has become known among her comrades for her remarkably calm and unruffled nature. She has trained alongside her British back-up Major Tim Mace.

Tomorrow, the Soyuz is due to dock with the Mir space station which has been occupied by two crew members for the last six months.

The British element of the Juno project has had trouble raising funds and the only sponsors to come forward are Interflora, a watch manufacturer and a cassette tape company.

During her eight days in space, Miss Sharman will carry out a series of medical and agricultural experiments.

She will also take part in a radio-ham test with British schools, take photos of the British Isles and see how pansies grow in weightless conditions.

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Helen Sharman in a space suit
Helen Sharman won a place in space history after answering an advertisement



In Context
Seven days later, Helen Sharman came back to Earth in her Soyuz TM11 capsule which parachuted into Kazakhstan. With her was Commander Musa Manarov who held the record for the longest time in space at 541 days.

When she emerged from the capsule she said: "The air is very fresh. Smell the flowers, they are wonderful."

She was awarded an OBE in 1993.

She has since become a lecturer and broadcaster on science education.

After 15 years in space, the Mir space station was decommissioned and disintegrated in the Earth's atmosphere on 23 March 2001.

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