Sheffield astronaut launching new mission to engage young people with STEM subjects

Sheffield astronaut Helen Sharman has said it is ‘really great news’ more children are interested in the STEM subjects on the back of the Covid-19 pandemic, and now wants to champion it even more with Mars mission.

Monday, 15th March 2021, 3:28 pm

Helen Sharman, who was the first British astronaut, has said that seeing scientists on TV more during the pandemic has made them more part of ‘everyday life’ and has led to a spike in the amount of children interested in working in science in the future.

A survey by aerospace company Thales showed that the pandemic has inspired a third, 35 per cent, of children to pursue a career in one of the STEM subjects, Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics.

The astronaut, who was the first British person in space when she travelled in 1991, grew up in Grenoside and Greenhill and says the bigger interest in science for children is ‘something good’ to come out of the pandemic.

Britain's first astronaut, Sheffield-born Helen Sharman, is supporting the MARSBalloon project.

Helen Sharman, CMG, OBE, told BBC Radio 5 Live on Friday, March 12: “So many children are much more interested in STEM careers, and in particular being doctors or nurses. Perhaps not surprising in the pandemic as we have seen those roles being absolutely vital and given so much care and support to so many people.

“But also many, many more children want to be astronauts. They want to include STEM subjects in their lives and I think this is really great.

"I never thought I would be saying thank you to Coronavirus for anything, but if there’s something good to come out of it it is that we are seeing how much science has been involved in the vaccine.

"Scientists have been on television, it has been much more of a high-profile role to have and children have definitely seen that that science is definitely part of everyday life and something that can make a really positive, direct impact to people and to people really close to them as well, so it is great news.”

She is now supporting Thales Alenia Space, an aerospace manufacturer, in their mission to get children involved in space with their ‘MARSBalloon’ project.

The project allows school students and science clubs to engage with the topical Mars-analogue science experiments without having to put on a spacesuit.

Helen Sharman has spent a lot of her career visiting schools and inspiring the generation of scientists and astronauts and told BBC Radio 5 Live there is ‘no better time’ for the MARSBalloon project.

She said on BBC Radio 5 Live: "It has been such a privilege to be spending so much time with young people and hopefully enthuse them to take up careers.

"We have got science week, and science days, and at this particular time with all the Mars missions as well, what better time to launch a brand new project for children in this country than Thales Alenia is launching the MARSBallon, and it is called that because the idea is children design and make this balloon that is then taken up high in a balloon up, really high, into the earths atmosphere so the conditions up there are similar to those on the Martian surface.

"The idea is they go up into atmosphere and then they come down back to earth.

"Thales Alenia Space actually posts them back to the children in their schools and their clubs and the children then have the experiment back and can feel it and touch.

"They will be learning science STEM subjects and possibly learning about their future careers as part of the project.”

Visit for more information on how to get involved.