LONDON – There’s no place like home.
Queen Elizabeth II reminded a group of schoolchildren studying space exploration about the importance of returning to Earth as she reminisced in a video call about the first man to make the trip — Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin.
The monarch, who invited Gargarin to Buckingham Palace shortly after his historic flight in 1961, was asked what the pioneering spaceman was like, according to details of the call released by the palace Friday.
“Russian,’’ she replied with a smile as her audience chuckled. “He didn’t speak English. He was fascinating, and I suppose being the first one it was particularly fascinating.’’
Space scientist Maggie Aderin-Pocock, who hosted the session to mark British Science Week, said it must have been terrifying to be the first man in space and not know what would happen.
“Well, yes, and if you could come back again,” the queen replied. “That’s very important.”
Wednesday's call with students from Thomas Jones Primary School in west London came during a difficult week for the queen, after the royal family was rocked by charges of racism and insensitivity leveled at them by Prince Harry and Meghan.
But despite the controversy, the queen went ahead with her work, much like she’s done for decades. Scientists from the London Science Museum briefed her on NASA’s Mars Perseverance mission and discussed the discovery of fragments from a meteorite earlier this week in England.
The group gave the queen a set of Mars Perseverance rover face masks, which were sent from NASA headquarters to Windsor Castle. Professor Caroline Smith of the Natural History Museum asked that one of the masks be given to Prince Philip, the queen’s husband, because of his long interest in science and space exploration.
The prince, 99, is recovering in a London hospital after undergoing a heart procedure.