ON THIS DAY: 1991: Sheffield's Helen Sharman becomes first Briton in space

Helen Sharman prepares for her mission in 1991.
Helen Sharman prepares for her mission in 1991.

A quarter of a century ago today, a former Sheffield schoolgirl made international headlines when she became the first Briton in space.

For it was on May 18, 1991 that Helen Sharman put the city of Sheffield and Great Britain on the map by blasting into space to become not only the first British astronaut but also the first woman to visit the Mir space station.

Helen Sharman was only 27 when she blasted into space.

Helen Sharman was only 27 when she blasted into space.

She was just 27 when she undertook her incredible voyage 25 years ago - her Planet Juno mission lasting eight days - and ensuring fame for the rest of her life as newspapers and television stations around the globe rushed to cover her remarkable story.

Born on May 30, 1963 in Grenoside, the young Helen spent her formative years as a pupil at Grenoside Junior and Infant School and later moving to Greenhill before studying at Jordanthorpe Comprehensive.

She received a BSc in chemistry at the University of Sheffield in 1984 - and became a research and development technologist for GEC and later as a chemist for Mars, working on developing flavours and their properties for the confectionery giant.

But her world changed on November 25, 1989 - for that was the day she was selected from thousands of others to become the very first British astronaut.

Helen chats to school children about her space mission.

Helen chats to school children about her space mission.

After responding to a radio advertisement asking for applicants, Helen was selected for the mission live on ITV, ahead of nearly 13,000 other hopefuls also keen to join the Project Juno mission, a joint expedition by the Soviet space programme and British firms.

Before heading into space, she spent eighteen months in intensive training - but it was all nearly in vain.

The Project Juno consortium failed to raise the money expected - and the programme was almost cancelled.

But then Russian president Mikhail Gorbachev ordered it to proceed under Soviet expense in the interests of international relations.

Helen aboard the Mir space station.

Helen aboard the Mir space station.

The Soyuz TM-12 mission, which included Soviet cosmonauts Anatoly Artsebarsky and Sergei Krikalev, launched on 18 May 1991 and lasted eight days, most of that time spent at the Mir space station.

Sharman's tasks included medical and agricultural tests, photographing the British Isles, and participating in an unlicensed amateur radio hookup with British schoolchildren. She landed aboard Soyuz TM-11 on 26 May 1991, along with Viktor Afanasyev and Musa Manarov.

Sharman was just 27 years and 11 months old when she went into space, making her the sixth youngest of the 545 individuals who have flown in space.

She has not returned to space since - although she was one of three British candidates in the 1992 European Space Agency astronaut selection process and was on the shortlist of 25 applicants in 1998.

Helen became famous around the globe after her mission.

Helen became famous around the globe after her mission.

After the mission, she spent years speaking to the public about the trip and her autobiography, Seize the Moment, was published in 1993.

Now 52, she has since returned to work in the chemistry sector, working at the National Physical Laboratory and the Department of Chemistry at Imperial College in London and has been awarded several honorary doctorates as well as an OBE in 1993.

Unfortunately, she is also remembered for an unlucky incident at the World Student Games in Sheffield - the same year as her space mission.

Chosen to light the flame at the Don Valley Stadium, on live international television, she tripped while carrying the torch, sending the burning embers onto the track.

Encouraged to continue her run, without any flame from the torch, she proceeded round the track and climbed to the ceremonial flame. Despite the lack of any fire from the torch the ceremonial flame still ignited.

Helen's star on the Sheffield walk of fame.

Helen's star on the Sheffield walk of fame.

Helen drops the torch at the World Student Games.

Helen drops the torch at the World Student Games.

Helen was awarded an OBE by The Queen in 1993.

Helen was awarded an OBE by The Queen in 1993.

How The Star reported Helen's mission into space.

How The Star reported Helen's mission into space.