Former astronaut ‘mesmerised and inspired’ children

Scores of would-be astronauts flocked to the former Market Hall in Wakefield City centre to meet the first-ever British astronaut, Helen Sharman, during the recent Festival of the Moon.

The two-week event, which attracted more than 30,000 people, was hosted to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the moon landing by Apollo 11.

Her presentation was riveting to us all from younger children to us teenagers who are still deciding what careers we want. Could it be a space explorer? That sounds far-fetched but perhaps Helen thought the same way when she was our age.

“The talk was very exciting, it makes me want to go to space!” eight-year-old Ruby told me afterwards while Lily, 6, said “it was cool, I really love space,” Helen told us about her life before being selected to be a space traveller. She heard the ‘job vacancy’ on the radio which driving one day.

Armed with a science degree, experience as a research chemist for a confectionary company, and having foreign languages in school – would that be enough to make her an astronaut?

She had no idea but applied anyway and from a field of more than 13,000 applicants she was selected and I could say ‘the rest is history’.

But Helen went on to tell us so much more about her training in Star City, Russia for 18 months which included learning Russian, learning about the experiments that she had to do on the Mir space station and hand-on training in a simulator.

One of her tasks would be detailed agricultural experiments to discover what plants could grow in space.

Helen Sharman
British astronaut Helen Sharman with one of her fans at Festival of the Moon, Wakefield

Fascinating was what life was like on the Mir space station, such as learning about the food she and her fellow astronauts ate, how it was made and eaten in a zero-gravity environment.

The air they breathed was created from the water! They used electricity from the solar panels to extract the oxygen atom from water. As we learnt in school water contains two atoms of hydrogen and one of oxygen.

It’s the same way that we get oxygen to breathe on Earth. It comes from splitting the atoms in water, except it’s not a machine that does it but it is the plants and trees all around us that split water molecules as part of photosynthesis.

That is why people call the Amazon Rainforests the ‘lungs of the earth’ and why we must be concerned about deforestation and loss of biodiversity through climate change.

Helen brought textbooks to life right before our eyes through her experience as an astronaut.

She made it clear that we could one day be the first astronauts to visit Mars. She recalled that being an astronaut was something she’d never dreamt of doing, so there would be so many possibilities for the children of today in the future.

“Helen’s talk was mesmerising and inspiring,” Lily, 11, told me afterwards.

I agree. And as a young person that has given me a perspective to consider as I ponder on the next stage of my life after school.

This was just one of the themed events for the Festival of the Moon which was held at the former Market Hall in Wakefield city centre during the summer.

Written by Connor Sadler, 18, of Wakefield.

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