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First British astronaut and Kingston University technician Helen Sharman says Gravity unrealistic but ET 'must exist'
A Kingston University technician who was the first Briton to go into space has said she gave Hollywood blockbuster Gravity a miss because the trailer did not look realistic enough.
Doctor Helen Sharman went into space on a commercial Soviet mission nearly 23 years ago after answering a job advert that said: “Astronaut wanted. No experience necessary.”
The 50-year-old, who has managed the faculty of science, engineering and computing at the Penrhyn Road campus since last May, was picked from 13,000 hopefuls after a gruelling selection process which included psychological tests and motions-sickness trials.
But the astronaut who spent eight days in a Russian spacecraft dismissed the Academy Award nominated and Golden Globe winning science-fiction thriller Gravity which starred A-listers Sandra Bullock and George Clooney.
She said: “I have not seen it. I was sent the trailer. I knew that if I did [watch the film] I would be endorsing it.
“I’m sure it was a very interesting film but it didn’t look realistic to me and it did not appeal to me. Apollo 13 however is a fantastic film – very realistic.”
Ms Sharman who grew up in Sheffield and left her job working for Mars Confectionery for Project Juno, spent her time doing experiments investigating the effects of gravity on the growth of plants.
She said: “The nearest feeling is floating on water. To be able to float in the air is a very natural feeling – you forget what it is like to stand up, sit down, to be able to use gravity to put your pencil down on your desk.
“Looking out of the window is what people do. You just looked out and talked about whatever came into your mind.
“I would love to go back. I think every astronaut would love to.”
Ms Sharman said only Ireland and New Zealand appeared green and that the vibrant colours of the earth she saw were never quite replicated in pictures or photos.
She dined on tinned meat, fish in tomato sauce, rye bread or Russian cabbage soup - shchi and beetroot soup known as Borsch but admitted food in an international space station would probably have had more variety.
TONGUE-TIED BY RUSSIAN PM’S CALL
Ms Sharman spoke to Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Gorbachev, who called the station from the Kremlin in May 1991.
She said: “It was a big surprise. I was not prepared with a speech or anything. It was off the cuff and I think I said something about it being a great opportunity not just for me but for Britain and the two nations to work together.
“I’m sure I was not as coherent as I would have liked to be.”
Being in a space craft with Russians meant that lessons in the language would have been a necessity, but when asked whether the language still rolled off her tongue, Ms Sharman said: “I’m getting rusty. I can do chit chat. My Russian teacher still emails me in Russian but I email him back in English.”
Project Juno ran on Moscow time despite the strange day-night patterns Ms Sharman experienced in space.
She said: “It would be dark and light 16 times in 24 hours. You get lots of nights and days in a day – it’s like working a weird night shift.”
‘ALIEN INTELLIGENT LIFE MUST EXIST’
There have not been any British astronauts since her trip in the 1990s, but now Major Tim Peake is training to change that.
Ms Sharman said: “I’m delighted now that we have got Tim Peake training with the European Space Agency and Britain has found a space mission for him – but there has been a long gap. The government has not funded human space flight till very recently at all.
“I’m glad that we are doing more – we should have done more before. I hope this is not a one-off. We have got a bit of catching up to do. I don’t think we can ever catch up on the economy, the GDP, the jobs that we have lost.”
Asked whether she believed there were any extra terrestrial beings out there, she said: “There must be.”