It all started with an astronaut …
In 1991, Helen Sharman was 27 years old when she became the first British astronaut. She launched on a Russian Soyuz rocket similar to that which carried Tim Peake 24 years later. The International Space Station had not yet been built; her destination was the Russian space station, Mir.
From Mir, she was able to talk to children at Royal Grammar School in Guildford over amateur radio. This event, arranged by teacher Francis Bell, sparked off a chain of events which led to Spacelink as we know it today.
Francis – an inspirational science teacher achieving spectacular results at RGS – was keen to support other schools in the UK. In 1997, he pulled together a team, including teachers Norman White and Robert Coombes, to create the Millenium Satellite Centre Ltd. This organisation sought to launch the world’s first educational satellite, designed to broadcast signals that could be tracked by school children down on Earth. This project was weeks from being funded when the incoming Blair government moved funding to the Millenium Dome, and cut the project.
After this disappointment, Norman White formed Spacelink to continue the mission of supporting schools with STEM education. Robert Coombes and others pulled together to commission and create a variety of resources and events to this purpose.
These events included Get Space! days, where many children were able to meet Helen Sharman in person – as the charity’s Patron, she attended many events and gave inspirational talks to the children. The Foundation also offered online resources, competitions, school visits, and other activities.
In 2014, Spacelink started delivering Hangout events, supported by STFC funding. Using the Google Hangout platform, STEM role models were able to communicate directly with classes of children. With location no object, Hangouts could even be delivered by overseas speakers. This activity continued to be supported by a kind legacy after the death of Norman White in 2015.
In 2018, Spacelink decided to focus on the Hangout events as its central activity.
What next? Watch this space.