Hartlepool science centre is out of this world, says astronaut

Britain's first female astronaut, Helen Sharman, paid a visit to High Tunstall College of Science in Hartlepool to help launch its STEM initiative. Here she chats with students from the school.

Britain's first female astronaut, Helen Sharman, paid a visit to High Tunstall College of Science in Hartlepool to help launch its STEM initiative. Here she chats with students from the school.

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A British astronaut has paid her first ever visit to Hartlepool - and was massively impressed.

Helen Sharman officially launched the new STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) initiative at High Tunstall College of Science.

Helen Sharman mixes with pupils on her visit to High Tunstall.

Helen Sharman mixes with pupils on her visit to High Tunstall.

Excited students asked her all sorts of questions, including how big the spaceship was that she flew in.

It was wide enough to hold three people inside, she said, but she would have to go back to the instruction manuals to remember its dimensions outside!

Enthusiastic Helen was an immediate hit with the students and had similar praise for High Tunstall head teacher Mark Tilling and his desire to spearhead a new generation of scientists.

She told the Hartlepool Mail of the importance of “anything that promotes science and encourages people, not just to take an interest in it, but shows how relevant science is, to our lives and the importance to the country and to the world economy.”

I really hope they are inspired not just by my presence but by the fact that they have got so much exciting stuff going on

Helen Sharman

She described the students as “absolutely fantastic” and added: “I really hope they are inspired not just by my presence but by the fact that they have got so much exciting stuff going on.”

The college’s new STEM system has seen four houses set up, each named after a celebrated figure including Helen herself.

Others include Stephen Hawking, Marie Curie, and Alan Turing.

The themed event also included two days of students enjoying rocket building and launching, and a chance to dress up as an alien.

Helen Sharman with High Tunstall College head teacher Mark Tilling.

Helen Sharman with High Tunstall College head teacher Mark Tilling.

As well as a visit to the school, Helen was also due to give a lecture at the Borough Hall.

Helen, who was 27 when she went into space, had responded to an advertisement she heard on the car radio - “Astronaut wanted. No experience necessary.”

She was eventually selected from over 13,000 applicants and was awarded the OBE in 1993. She became the first Briton in space in 1991 when she launched on a Soyuz spacecraft to spend eight days orbiting the Earth, most of that time on the Mir Space Station.

Despite her own achievements, she said she was “amazed” with the determination of Mr Tilling to involve businesses and other schools in her visit and said she had never met a head teacher like him.

Mr Tilling said: “This is absolutely huge. We have been working on it for a number of months.”

He said one of the aims was to get Helen to speak and inspire students, and make them want to achieve.

“She had done something which is out of this world and not all of us can do, but we can achieve.”