There are times when you read the newspaper or watch media newscasts when you think that there is nothing but gloom and despondency to focus on in this world. From wars, starvation and the (so called) perils of global change we seem to be faced with an insurmountable list of problems to resolve
But then every so often something comes along to restore your faith in humanity and remind us what potential we have as human beings to transcend our humble beginnings. Today was one of those days when Major Tim Peake became Britain’s first official astronaut . The Soyuz rocket took off at 11.03GMT and Major Peake should step on to the ISS at around 7.25pm GMT. The married father of two, from Chichester, West Sussex, has spent six years in training for the mission, which will see him spend six months aboard the ISS – an orbiting laboratory that speeds through space at 17,500mph some 248 miles above Earth.
It should be noted however, that the first British astronaut to go into space was Helen Sharman. A group of private companies negotiated a seat on a Soyuz mission to the Russian Mir space station. Soon after, an advertisement went out: ‘Astronaut wanted. No experience necessary’.
Helen Sharman was selected from 13,000 applicants and trained intensely for 18 months in Star City, Russia. She launched on 18 May 1991, aged 27, alongside two Soviet cosmonauts and spent eight days in space.
So the first Brit in space was a woman, not only that, she was a daughter of Shefield, Yorkshire (where I spent a good part of my working life) and obtained her first degree from Sheffield University. I can remember vividly the excitement that her trip created in the city of Sheffield and all the schoolchildren throughout the city waiting expectantly for the launch of her rocket. She became (and rightly so) a tremendous celebrity on her return to Earth and particularly when she visited Sheffield.
But let us salute Tim Peake and his fellow cosmonauts for taking our breath away, inspiring us, and reminding us what can be achieved when people from different nations work together for the benefit of mankind.