Sheffield astronaut Helen Sharman OBE recalls vivid memory of Apollo 11 moon landings

Britain's first astronaut in space - Sheffield woman Helen Sharman OBE – has shared her memories of the awe-inspiring moment humans landed on the moon 50 years ago.

Friday, 19th July 2019, 2:40 pm

Born in Grenoside, she told how she gazed up at the stars from her back garden while her father described the significance of commander Neil Armstrong and module pilot Buzz Aldrin’s momentous achievement taking humanity’s first steps on the lunar surface.

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She would herself go on to become the first Briton in space and first woman to visit the Mir Space Station in May 1991.

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FILE - This July 20, 1969 file photo provided by NASA shows Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong on the lunar surface. Apollo 11 astronauts trained on Earth to take individual photographs in succession in order to create a series of frames that could be assembled into panoramic images. This frame from Aldrin's panorama of the Apollo 11 landing site is the only good picture of mission commander Neil Armstrong on the lunar surface. Armstrong and fellow astronaut Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin spent nearly three hours walking on the moon, collecting samples, conducting experiments and taking photographs. In all, 12 Americans walked on the moon from 1969 to 1972. (AP Photo/NASA, Buzz Aldrin, File)

The 56-year-old spoke to ITV News as the world prepares to mark 50 years since the Apollo 11 moon landings, which took place on July 20, 1969.

She told how at first the significance of the moment was a little lost on her as a six-year-old girl but later felt ‘in awe’ of what the astronauts did as she grew older.

She said: “My father was trying to impress upon me how important this whole thing was and he took me down the garden at the time and you could actually see the moon and he was saying ‘Don’t you understand there are people now walking on the moon?’

The US astronauts who took part in the Apollo 11 mission to the moon - Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edwin 'Buzz' Aldrin.

“My sister had recently learned how to walk and I didn’t think that was a terribly amazing thing to do, so for me i related it all to walking.

“But of course it was subsequently really when I started to learn much more about the technology and the engineering and the daredevil stuff that they were doing to fly around the back of the moon and to land on the surface when they really didn’t know what was there.”

Working as a chemist, her trip into space was made possible by a private programme called Project Juno, and paid for jointly by the USSR and a consortium of British companies.

She told how her first concern was simply not to mess up.

First Briton in space Helen Sharman CMG OBE

“I was so desperate to do it right, to do a good job, because I felt this responsibility that people were looking at me and I did not want the first Brit to mess up.”

She described zero-gravity as this “wonderful, relaxing floating sensation” and the awe-inspiring view as “a fabulous, fabulous thing”, adding: “Nobody gets tired of looking at the Earth.”

Asked if we will see a first Briton on the moon or even Mars in our lifetime, she said: “I think we will. Britain is deciding relatively recently to get back into funding human space flight again and we are part of the European Space Agency and the space flight programme so there is a chance.”

Helen Sharman CMG OBE

She would “love to go back” to space and revealed she occasionally has a recurring dream about “looking out at the Earth spinning below.”