Helen Sharman at the Norwich Science Festival, Norwich Cathedral. October 2017.
Having had a hint of what a great speaker Helen Sharman is at the recent New Scientist Live event I was very excited about this event, and it was heart warming to see that the people of Norwich, Norfolk and far beyond also felt the same. Norwich Cathedral's main space was full the on the afternoon of Dr Sharman's talk.
Dr Sharman spoke for 45 minutes about her career as a scientist and her time as an astronaut, and this was a brilliant talk taking a different tack than many of the other space talks that I've heard - this one was very much about the science involved.
This wasn't just about the science Dr Sharman undertook in space (more of this later) but about the importance of science in getting to space, in surviving in space and also how science will let us explore further in space. Linking everything back in this was really inspiring and gave a real insight into how earth based science really does have implications for space.
The parts I found most interesting however was when Dr Sharman talked about the experiments she undertook on MIR regarding plants and seeds. Although she was only there for 8 days it was enough time to see how roots grow and seeds germinate. All well and good and at this point it looked like growing food in space would be possible. Indeed I thought that this was the case as we've seen astronauts on ISS grow lettuce and flowers. I didn't know that as yet it hasn't proved possibly to actually grow fruit or vegetables, and that as yet no one is actually sure why, although there are theories. This inability to produce food has great implications for long duration missions to other planets where regular resupply deliveries won't be possible.
After a great question and answer session, Mr Norfolkbookworm and I were lucky enough to have the chance to meet Dr Sharman and talk with her for a few minutes. I had another question about the science she undertook on MIR as I was interested if she'd seen practical applications of any of her experiments back here on earth. I wasn't aware that due to the nature of her mission (and the lack of money) she wasn't able to take her 'own' experiments and was just helping the Russians with theirs.
This was a wonderful afternoon, and although the cathedral was packed and we were very much in the middle of the audience the great PA system and large screens relaying the talk meant that we didn't miss a thing. Here's hoping Norwich starts to get the same reputation as Pontefract for welcoming astronauts and we become a regular stopping off place for space travellers!