16:30 GMT +317 January 2020
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    Helen Patricia Sharman, who became the first British cosmonaut and the first woman to visit the Mir space station in May 1991, gave an interview to The Observer Magazine on 5 January, opening up on her unique experience in space.

    The first Briton to have been launched into space believes aliens exist and may even already be on earth – we simply cannot see them.

    Speaking in an interview for The Observer Magazine, Dr Helen Sharman said:

    “Aliens exist, there’s no two ways about it. There are so many billions of stars out there in the universe that there must be all sorts of different forms of life. Will they be like you and me, made up of carbon and nitrogen? Maybe not. It’s possible they’re here right now and we simply can’t see them”.

    The female cosmonaut, 56, said she never defines herself by her gender.

    “People often describe me as the first British woman in space, but I was actually the first British person. It’s 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, so I’m thrilled that I got to upset that order,” says Sharman.

    The cosmonaut waxed lyrical as she spoke of the breathtaking beauty of the Earth from up high.

    “I’ll never forget the first time I saw it. After take-off we left the atmosphere and suddenly light streamed in through the window. We were over the Pacific Ocean. The gloriously deep blue seas took my breath away.”

    Sharman also shared how enlightening it was for her to comprehend how it’s people, not material goods, which truly matter, once she found herself in space.

    “I gave no thought to the physical items I owned on earth Earth. When we flew over specific parts of the globe, it was always our loved ones we thought of down below us.”

    Helen Sharman, a chemist, was selected for the Juno space project after responding to a 1989 UK radio advertisement looking for applicants, competing against 13,000 other candidates for the chance to be the first British citizen in space.

    Project Juno was part of a government-level agreement concluded between the USSR and Great Britain.

    After 18 months of rigorous training at Yury Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre in Star City, in 1991, at the age of 27, she became a household name, spending almost eight days in space aboard the Soyuz TM-12 and Mir space station, performing scientific experiments, before returning to earth.

    She has not returned to space since, and was turned down for Space Projects with the European Space Agency in 1992 and 1998.

    After her return to Earth, Sharman wrote books, visited schools and undertook speaking tours about science.

    Sharman subsequently retreated from public life for a while, before joining the National Physical Laboratory in 2011 and then moving to Imperial College London to become operations manager at the department of chemistry in 2015. She continues outreach activities related to chemistry and her spaceflight.

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