A STUDENT from Welwyn Garden City whose experiment was destroyed when a rocket crashed last year has seen her second attempt return safely after two months in outer space.

Ms Tamara Banerjee, 22, of Blakemere Road, is one of a team of four medical students researching how bacteria grow in zero gravity.

Last October, a rocket containing their experiment crashed on take off from Plevetsk in northern Siberia, but in August the bacteria samples were taken into orbit on the International Space Station.

Ms Banerjee said: "We are the first European students to have an experiment on the International Space Station, which is amazing.

"The opportunity is really cool."

Although the bacteria are not harmful, she had to completely redesign the experiment to prevent any possibility of contaminating the astronauts on the space station – the original version was conceived for an unmanned satellite.

Last week, at a space medicine conference in Cologne, Germany, Ms Banerjee watched on a television screen as the eight "columns" – like specially sealed and secured test tubes – containing the samples were transferred from the space station to a Soyuz spacecraft, which then landed in Kazakhstan.

They have now been moved via Moscow to Edinburgh University, where the students will analyse them to see how the bacteria grew and reproduced in a weightless environment.

She said: "I was meant to go to Moscow to collect them, but I couldn't because I had to do exams.

"It will probably take a month to do the analysis.

"We have been working on this for two years."

The results could help scientists understand how the earth's atmosphere developed and investigate ways of creating artificial atmosphere, perhaps even to enable people to live on Mars.

Ms Banerjee, now in the fifth and penultimate year of her medical studies, has transferred from Edinburgh University to Oxford.

Her twin sister Tyara is also a medical student, while her older sister Tanya is already working as a doctor.

Her ambition is to be a space flight surgeon – a doctor for astronauts – perhaps even based on a space station herself.