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The Queen charms scientists as she's shown 'fascinating' pictures of Mars

The monarch has marked several historic milestones during her 69-year reign

queen british science week
Danielle Stacey
Danielle StaceyOnline Royal CorrespondentLondon
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The Queen was on good form as she met British scientists, educators and schoolchildren during a virtual event to mark British Science Week.

Despite the royal family generating headlines around the world following the Duke and Duchess of Sussex's tell-all interview with Oprah Winfrey, it was business as usual for the 94-year-old monarch at Windsor Castle.

British space scientist and co-presenter of The Sky at Night, Dr Maggie Aderin Pocock MBE, told Her Majesty during a video call on Wednesday how she'd been inspired to become a space scientist by Yuri Gagarin, the first human to travel into space. 

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WATCH: The Queen reacts to pictures of Mars taken by NASA’s Perseverance rover

The Queen recalled her own memories of meeting Yuri at Buckingham Palace in 1961, shortly following his return to Earth.

"It was very interesting to meet him. And I suppose being the first one, it was particularly fascinating," the Queen said.

Dr Aderin-Pocock replied: "It must have been very terrifying to be the first one, and not really knowing what was going to happen!"

Her Majesty quipped: "Well, yes – and if you could come back again. That’s very important!"

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yuri gagarin© Photo: Getty Images

Yuri Gagarin was the first human to journey into outer space in 1961

Dr Aderin-Pocock said of the monarch after the video call: "It was such an honour to speak to the Queen. It is one thing to visit Buckingham Palace but quite another to have a call with Her Majesty. I couldn't quite believe it. 

"When I mentioned Yuri Gagarin to her, I couldn’t believe her answer. It was not what I expected! She made us all laugh. She has a wonderful sense of humour.

"And it makes you realise, given the fact that he died in 1968, how long she has been our monarch. She is living history, in fact."

Later in the call, the Queen was briefed on the latest updates from the NASA Mars Perseverance mission by Professor Caroline Smith, Professor of Earth Sciences and Principal Curator of Meteorites at the Natural History Museum.

After being shown images taken by the rover on the surface of Mars, the monarch said: "It’s fascinating to see the pictures of Mars – it’s unbelievable really to think one can actually see its surface!"

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queen scientists mars© Buckingham Palace

The Queen spoke with Professor Caroline Smith who showed her images of Mars

The Queen also met schoolchildren from Thomas Jones School in West London during the call, who demonstrated their 'rocket mice' experiment to Her Majesty.

As one pupil squished a bottle, launching the 'rocket mouse' into the air, the Queen laughed and said: "Splendid! Well that’s been very interesting to hear and I hope the children have enjoyed it too. They might learn something from it as well.

"I think it's fascinating to see the pictures of Mars, unbelievable really to think one can actually see its surface.

"Well it's been a very interesting morning, thank you very much indeed. And it’s wonderful work you're all doing. It's a great pleasure to see you all."

queen school pupils© Buckingham Palace

The monarch chatted with school pupils from Thomas Jones School in west London

The Queen, wearing a green patterned dress and a diamond brooch, sweetly waved goodbye to the children at the end of the video call.

And as a memento from the session, Her Majesty was presented with a set of Mars Perseverance rover face masks, sent from NASA headquarters to Windsor Castle.

Professor Smith asked that one of the masks be gifted to the Duke of Edinburgh, who is renowned for his interest in space exploration.

Prince Philip, 99, spent his 24th day in hospital after undergoing a procedure on a pre-existing heart condition at St Bartholomew's Hospital in London last week.

The Duke has since returned to King Edward VII's hospital for observation and recovery, following his initial admittance on 16 February.

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