"There's no two ways about it," says Helen Sharman, who traveled to the Mir space station in 1991.
Helen Sharman became the first British person in space when she traveled to the Mir space station in 1991. So when she speaks about aliens, it carries some weight. Sharman told The Observer magazine she's absolutely sure there are other forms of life out there -- and maybe they're already mingling with us.
"Aliens exist, there's no two ways about it," Sharman said. "There are so many billions of stars out there in the universe that there must be all sorts of different forms of life. Will they be like you and me, made up of carbon and nitrogen? Maybe not. It's possible they're here right now and we simply can't see them."
Sharman, a chemist, heard the job ad for Britain's first astronaut on her car radio in 1991 and almost didn't apply, thinking she wouldn't be chosen. She was, but because of her gender, she is sometimes forgotten.
"People often describe me as the first British woman in space, but I was actually the first British person," she said. "When Tim Peake (the first British astronaut affiliated with the European Space Agency) went into space (in 2015), some people simply forgot about me. A man going first would be the norm, so I'm thrilled that I got to upset that order."
Astronomers have long searched the stars (and neighboring planets) for signs of extraterrestrial life. When the interstellar comet 'Oumuamua passed through our solar system in October 2017, its bizarre behavior caused some scientists to postulate it might be an alien craft. There's also the mystery of the fast, repeating radio bursts astronomers only recently discovered.
Could these be signs of alien life? It doesn't seem likely right now. Then again, we are just a small speck in a vast, near-infinite abyss... who knows what lies beyond?
Perhaps our best shot at finding our new cosmic best friends will come later this year, when NASA sends another high-tech Mars rover to the red planet specifically to look for life.