18. Helen Sharman
Along with being the first British astronaut, Helen Patricia Sharman was the first woman to visit the Mir space station. But her mission very nearly ended before it began.
Sharman applied to become an astronaut after hearing about the opportunity on her local radio station. However, this is not a quaint story of a British woman simply deciding to go to space. Sharman holds a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry, not to mention a doctorate from the University of London.
Before her career in space, Sharman worked as a chemist for the candy company Mars Incorporated, working with the various flavors of chocolate. However, after beating out nearly 13,000 other applications, she joined the Project Juno team. Project Juno was a joint British-Soviet mission that funded in part by British companies.
When much of the funding fell through, Sharman very nearly stayed on the ground. However, Project Juno was saved by additional funds via the Soviet Union. The USSR required Sharman and others to scale back their intended experiments as a cost-saving measure. She was able to launch aboard the Soyuz TM-11 in 1991.
Sharman was in space for a total of seven days and 21 hours. Much of that time was spent aboard the Mir space station. There, she conducted a series of experiments focused on agriculture and medical science.
After she returned to Earth, Sharman continued her work as a chemist and science communicator. In 2015, she became the Operations Manager for the Department of Chemistry at Imperial College London.