Helen Sharman

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Helen Sharman
Helen Sharman Astronaut.jpg
Project Juno astronaut
Nationality British
Born (1963-05-30) 30 May 1963 (age 52)
Sheffield, England
Other occupation
University of Sheffield, BSc 1984
Birkbeck, University of London, Ph.D.
Time in space
7d 21h 13m
Selection 1989 Juno
Missions Soyuz TM-12, Soyuz TM-11
Mission insignia
Soyuz TM-12 patch.png Soyuz TM-11 patch.png

Dr Helen Patricia Sharman OBE FRSC (born 30 May 1963) is a British chemist who became the first Briton in space and the first woman to visit the Mir space station in 1991.

Sharman was born in Grenoside, Sheffield (where she attended Grenoside Junior and Infant School), later moving to Greenhill. After studying at Jordanthorpe Comprehensive, she received a BSc in chemistry at the University of Sheffield in 1984 and a PhD from Birkbeck, University of London. She worked as a research and development technologist for GEC in London and later as a chemist for Mars Incorporated dealing with flavourant properties of chocolate.[1][2]

Project Juno[edit]

Main article: Project Juno

After responding to a radio advertisement asking for applicants to be the first British astronaut, Sharman was selected for the mission live on ITV, on 25 November 1989, ahead of nearly 13,000 other applicants.[2][3][4] The programme was known as Project Juno and was a cooperative arrangement between the Soviet Union and a group of British companies.[citation needed]

Sharman has been wrongly described as "selected by lottery". She was subjected to a rigorous selection process that gave weight to scientific, educational and aerospace backgrounds as well as the ability to learn a foreign language.[5] A lottery was one of several schemes used to raise money to underwrite the cost of the flight.[citation needed]

Sokol space suit worn by Sharman, at the National Space Centre in Leicester.

Before flying, Sharman spent 18 months in intensive flight training in Star City. The Project Juno consortium failed to raise the monies expected, and the programme was almost cancelled. Reportedly Mikhail Gorbachev ordered it to proceed under Soviet expense in the interests of international relations, but in the absence of western underwriting, less expensive experiments were substituted for those in the original plans.[citation needed]

The Soyuz TM-12 mission, which included Soviet cosmonauts Anatoly Artsebarsky and Sergei Krikalev, launched on 18 May 1991[6] and lasted eight days, most of that time spent at the Mir space station. Sharman's tasks included medical and agricultural tests,[7] photographing the British Isles, and participating in an unlicenced amateur radio hookup with British schoolchildren. She landed aboard Soyuz TM-11 on 26 May 1991, along with Viktor Afanasyev and Musa Manarov.

Sharman was just 27 years and 11 months old when she went into space, making her (as of 2015) the sixth youngest of the 545 individuals who have flown in space. The second youngest, Valentina Tereshkova, became the first woman in space in 1963 at the age of 26 years and 3 months.[citation needed]

Sharman has not returned to space, although she was one of three British candidates in the 1992 European Space Agency astronaut selection process and was on the shortlist of 25 applicants in 1998.[citation needed]

For her Project Juno accomplishments, Sharman received a star on the Sheffield Walk of Fame.[citation needed]

Later career[edit]

Sharman spent the eight years following her mission to Mir self-employed, communicating science to the public.[1] Her autobiography, Seize the Moment, was published in 1993.[8] In 1997 she published a children's book, The Space Place.[9] She has presented radio and television programmes including for BBC Schools.[10]

By 2011, she was working at the National Physical Laboratory as Group Leader of the Surface and Nanoanalysis Group.[1] Sharman became Operations Manager for the Department of Chemistry at Imperial College London in 2015.[11] She still does outreach activities related to chemistry and her spaceflight, and was recently awarded an Honorary Fellowship from the British Science Association.[12]

Awards and honours[edit]

In 1991, she was chosen to light the flame at the 1991 Summer Universiade, held in Sheffield. On live international television, she tripped while running through the infield of Don Valley Stadium, sending the burning embers onto the track. Encouraged to continue her run, without any flame from the torch, she proceeded round the track and climbed to the ceremonial flame. Despite the lack of any fire from the torch the ceremonial flame still ignited.[13]

For her pioneering efforts, Sharman was appointed an OBE in 1993, and the same year an honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry.[14]

The British School in Assen, Netherlands is named the Helen Sharman School after her. In addition there is a house named after her at Wallington High School for Girls, a grammar school in the London Borough of Sutton, where each house is named after a high achieving and influential woman. The science block of BullersWood school, Chislehurst, Kent was opened by Sharman in 1994 and is called Sharman House. There is also a house named after her at Rugby High School for Girls a girls grammar school where houses are named after four influential women, and a Sharman house at Moorlands School, Leeds where houses are named after inspiring people from Yorkshire.[citation needed]

Additionally, Helen Sharman Drive[15] is named in her honour in a residential development in the town of Stafford in the West Midlands of England, on a housing estate where the roads are named after notables in the field of space exploration.

She has received a number of honorary degrees from UK universities, including:

Year Honour University Reference
1991 Honorary Fellow Sheffield Hallam University [16]
1995 Honorary Doctor of Science degree University of Kent [17]
1996 Honorary Doctor of Technology degree University of Plymouth [18]
1997 Honorary Doctor of Science degree Southampton Solent University [19]
1998 Honorary Doctor of Science degree Staffordshire University [20]
1999 Honorary Doctor of Science degree University of Exeter [21]
2010 Honorary Doctor of Science degree Brunel University London [22]



  1. ^ a b c "bbk: Birkbeck's Magazine, Issue 29, SPRING 2011" (PDF). Birkbeck University. p. 16. Retrieved 21 September 2015. 
  2. ^ a b "Helen Sharman, Made in Sheffield". Made in Sheffield Dot Com. Archived from the original on 14 August 2006. Retrieved 20 September 2006. 
  3. ^ "Spacefacts Biography of Helen Sharman". spacefacts.de. Retrieved 21 September 2015. 
  4. ^ "United Kingdom: Helen Sharman". The Financial Times Magazine. 1 April 2011. Retrieved 21 September 2015. 
  5. ^ "Brits In Space". Chicago Tribune. 30 May 1990. Retrieved 21 September 2015. 
  6. ^ "Sharman becomes first Briton in space". The BBC. Retrieved 21 September 2015. 
  7. ^ "Helen Sharman becomes the first Briton in space". BT Group. Retrieved 21 September 2015. 
  8. ^ Sharman, Helen (28 October 1993). Seize the Moment: The Autobiography of Britain's First Astronaut: Autobiography of Helen Sharman. Victor Gollancz. ISBN 0575056282. 
  9. ^ Sharman, Helen (12 March 1997). The Space Place. Portland Press. ISBN 1855780925. 
  10. ^ "Helen Patricia Sharman OBE - 2010". Brunel University. Retrieved 21 September 2015. 
  11. ^ "Former astronaut Dr Helen Sharman finds a new space at Imperial". Imperial College London. Retrieved 6 October 2015. 
  12. ^ "Public engagement and media big hitters honoured by British Science Association". British Science Association. Retrieved 21 September 2015. 
  13. ^ "Baton charge duty for Becks". The Guardian Online. 25 July 2002. Retrieved 4 September 2012. 
  14. ^ "Who are our Honorary Fellows?". Royal Society of Chemistry. Retrieved 6 November 2006. 
  15. ^ "Helen Sharman Drive". Google Maps. 2016. Retrieved 9 January 2016. 
  16. ^ "Honorary Awards". Sheffield Hallam University. Retrieved 8 September 2015. 
  17. ^ "Honorary graduates 1990-99". University of Kent. Retrieved 8 September 2015. 
  18. ^ "Honorary Degrees". Times Higher Education Online. 19 January 1996. Retrieved 8 September 2015. 
  19. ^ "Honorary Graduates". Southampton Solent University. Retrieved 8 September 2015. 
  20. ^ "Recipients of Honorary Awards". Staffordshire University. Retrieved 8 September 2015. 
  21. ^ "Honorary Graduates of the University". University of Exeter. Retrieved 8 September 2015. 
  22. ^ "Helen Patricia Sharman OBE - 2010". Brunel University London. 28 April 2011. Retrieved 8 September 2015. 

External links[edit]