First British astronaut 'delighted' to be a role model

Britain's first astronaut has said it is "very powerful" that she travelled into space "regardless of gender".

Helen Sharman was appointed a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG) by the Queen at Windsor Castle on Friday.

Speaking after the investiture ceremony, Ms Sharman told the Press Association: "While I've always been delighted to be a role model in whatever way, I think it's very powerful that I was the first British astronaut regardless of gender.

"While I never overtly get involved with gender specific events let's say, I think it's quite clear to girls that I just got on with it.

"Was it any more difficult for me? I don't know, because I don't know what it's like to be anybody else, but I can certainly do it, and so can they."

Ms Sharman became the first Briton in space when she visited the Mir space station in May 1991.

Her trip was made possible by a private programme called Project Juno, and paid for jointly by the USSR and a consortium of British companies.

More than 25 years after she went to space, Ms Sharman praised entrepreneurs Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk as "visionaries" who "are making space more accessible."

Calling Mr Musk's recent launch of a Tesla car into space "fantastic", she said: "We've been gradually getting towards more and more commercialism for a long time."

Ms Sharman was picked from some 13,000 applicants for her space voyage, undergoing 18 months of gruelling training at Star City, the cosmonaut centre just outside Moscow, learning to speak Russian and preparing for the journey.

She said: "I was so keen to do such a good job in space because I wanted to do my country proud, because I knew it wasn't just me as a scientist, it was me as a British person, and I represented my country with the other astronauts."

During her time on the Mir space station, she worked on a range of medical and agricultural experiments.

The 54-year-old was honoured for her services to science and technology educational outreach.

She is the operations manager for the chemistry department at Imperial College London and gives talks and lectures on her experiences.

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