The first British astronaut to go into space paid a visit to Molesey school children to talk about space sickness, plants in space and aliens.

Dr Helen Sharman, who was previously a technical adviser at the faculty of science, engineering and computing at Kingston University’s Penrhyn Road campus, visited pupils at Chandlers Field School in the High Street on Tuesday.

The 53-year-old told the children how she had been picked from more than 13,000 hopefuls to join the Project Juno space programme after hearing a radio advert.

After growing up in Sheffield, Dr Sharman went to work for Mars Confectionary making ice cream.

She said: “There’s so much science in making ice cream. I was then moved into making chocolate. I hadn’t thought about going into space at all, I loved my job.

“One day I heard about a job of being an astronaut. I thought it would be amazing to do that. They wanted people doing practical things in their job, physically fit people and those who knew different languages.

“I never dreamed of going to space as no one had gone before. I heard an advert for the job and I knew that’s what I wanted to do.

“I nearly didn’t apply, but if I didn’t I wouldn’t have a chance.”

After intense elimination processes involving psychological tests and motion-sickness trials, Dr Sharman was selected as the candidate to join Anatole Artsebarskii and Sergei Krikalev in the Soviet mission, going up into space on May 18, 1991.

Starstruck children stood up to ask Dr Sharman questions in an assembly about her duties on board the Mir space station.

She said: “I took up some different plants. I took up potatoes too. When I took them into space they’d been in the dark for two days, the roots were growing in all sorts of directions as they didn’t know where the light was.”

She had even taken a lemon tree with her that lived a further three years after she returned to Earth. Dr Sharman told inquisitive pupils she could only eat tinned and packaged foods on board during her eight days in space to prevent crumbs floating around the station.

She also managed to avoid space sickness through the g-forces launching the crew out of the atmosphere, but other colleagues weren’t so lucky.

Dr Sharman was even asked by one pupil if she had seen any aliens on her mission, with other students shouting out ‘green’, ‘yellow’ and ‘skinny’ as to what the extra terrestrials could look like.

She replied: “I don’t know. Maybe they’re totally see-through. I don’t think any were close to my spaceship but there must be some out there. I would love to meet an alien.”