'Yuri Gagarin, Neil Armstrong… who are they? My favourite astronaut is Helen Sharman, the first Briton into space. Read on to discover more about her daring space expedition and to find out what she is doing now.'
Dr Helen Sharman OBE is a chemist turned astronaut who visited the Russian-owned low Earth orbit space station Mir as part of the Russian commercial space expedition Project Juno in 1991. Born on the 30th May 1963, she went to a comprehensive school before attending the University of Sheffield where she earned her BSc in chemistry before going on to do her PhD at Birbeck, University of London, where she researched the luminescence of rare-earth ions in crystals and glasses. She was the first Briton into space and to this day the youngest person to ever travel to space.
Sharman made her way into the Project Juno recruitment pool when she heard a radio advertisement. Having formal scientific training, a high level of physical fitness and an amazing ability to pick up new languages (she knew how to speak French and German) she beat out thousands of other applicants in a rigorous selection process. For eight days she conducted experiments surrounding the effects of weightlessness on the human body and on plants, amongst other things. She also maintained a radio link with British school students during her mission. For years following her mission she worked tirelessly as a speaker and a scientific demonstrator to the public. A lot of this work was completely unpaid. She also published an autobiography Sieze The Moment in 1993. She also worked as a chemist for Mars Incorporated, so if you really like Mars bars, you know who to thank. She continues her scientific outreach work to this day and she is currently Operations Manager for the Department of Chemistry at Imperial College London.
As well as being a scientific pioneer I think it is also obvious from her outreach (continuing even when she was on the spacecraft!) work that Sharman loves science and wants to influence as many people to get into it as possible. Also, who would pass up the opportunity to go into space? She has lived an absolutely inspirational life and I think she makes an absolutely awesome role model for anyone looking to get into whatever branch of science. I think she also proves an important point that even if you are formally trained in one profession there is no reason why you can't use the skills an expertise and apply them to something completely different. I think she is a brilliant chemist and one of the most amazing polymaths of our time and that is why she is my #WCE for today.
Image Source: http://www.rsc.org/diversity/175-faces/all-faces/helen-sharman