Queen Elizabeth Jokes About Meeting Russian Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin

The Queen has taken part in a video call with scientists and school children to mark British Science Week.

During the call, Queen Elizabeth II was asked what it was like to meet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin (in 1961), to which she answered simply: “Russian”.

“He didn’t speak English… he was fascinating. And I suppose being the first one [to go into space] it was particularly fascinating”.

NASA’s Mars Perseverance mission and the discovery of a meteorite in Gloucestershire were also discussed.

British Science Week runs from March 5 to March 14. Credit: The Royal Family via Storyful

Video Transcript

ELIZABETH II: Good morning.

MAGGIE ADERIN-POCOCK: Good morning, Your Majesty. And it's wonderful to be with you celebrating this year's British Science Week. British Science Week is a bit of a misnomer. This is actually a 10 day celebration of STEM-- Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.

My name is Dr. Maggie Aderin-Pocock. I'm a space scientist and a science communicator. And I do love to share my passion with science with everyone. So it is a true honor to be speaking with you just now.

The reason I became a space scientist is because of someone I share a birthday with. So it was actually my birthday yesterday on the 9th of March. But Yuri Gagarin, the first human to travel out into space, was also born on the 9th of March, and I believe a man that you met him. Can you tell us about that.

ELIZABETH II: I did indeed, yes. It was very interesting to meet him.

MAGGIE ADERIN-POCOCK: What was he like?

ELIZABETH II: Russian.

[LAUGHTER]

He didn't speak English.

MAGGIE ADERIN-POCOCK: He didn't speak English?

ELIZABETH II: He was fascinating. And I suppose being the first one, it was particularly fascinating.

MAGGIE ADERIN-POCOCK: Yes, yes. He's been quite an inspiration for me sort of getting into space science. I also think it must have been very terrifying to be the first one and not knowing what's really going to happen.

ELIZABETH II: Yes, could you come back again?

MAGGIE ADERIN-POCOCK: Yes, because I think in these days--

ELIZABETH II: Very important.

MAGGIE ADERIN-POCOCK: Yes, it's one thing going, but coming back is good.

ELIZABETH II: Exactly. So without further ado, I'd like to hand over to Caroline, who can talk us through some of the exciting results are coming back up from the surface of Mars.

CAROLINE SMITH: Thank you, Maggie. Good afternoon, Your Majesty. It's a real pleasure to see you this afternoon. And I'd like to just run through some images of the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover, which I'm very honored to be a part of the science team for that mission.

So this, I don't know whether you can see my mouse, but on the right hand side, this is on the end of the arm. On the right hand side, you can see a white sort of box with a triangular shape. That's actually the SHERLOC instrument. And it's an acronym. It stands for Scanning Habitable Environments using Ramen and Laser for Organic Chemistry.

So NASA, and various European agencies, and the UK Space Agency, we love our acronyms. So any acronym we can make up, we always will try and make up an acronym. But this instrument works by firing out a laser beam onto a sample of rock. And you can look at the way the rock sort of interacts with that laser beam, and you can measure the spectra.

And that will tell you the minerals that are in that rock and also the chemistry of that rock. Because the Perseverance rover, the Mars, 2020, mission's main aim is to look for evidence of past life on Mars, which I just think is absolutely thrilling. And this is looking into the distance on the Martian surface in the Jezero crater region, where the Perseverance rover has landed.

ELIZABETH II: Very rocky too, isn't it?

CAROLINE SMITH: Yes, it is. So this area, Your Majesty, is actually a crater that formed early in Mars's history, probably about 4 billion years ago. And that crater actually was full of water. And water, obviously, is a key element you need for life. So that's one of the reasons why we are going there. We've chosen this specific part of Mars to explore.

And if I can just have one more slide to show you, Your Majesty. I don't know whether you have seen on the news, we're very excited because we have a new British meteorite that fell just at the end of last week. So I'd just like to show you this image.

So this is an image of one of the meteorite fragments that was found. So at about 8:55 last Sunday evening, a large fireball was seen across a huge amount of the United Kingdom, and pieces of meteorite actually fell in Gloucestershire, just north of Cheltenham.

ELIZABETH II: It looks very mixed rock.

CAROLINE SMITH: Yes, it is. So what you can see in this images is, there's a sort of red patch at the front. That's actually the surface of the meteorite. And as you point out, there are different patches in this. There are white objects, could be things called calcium aluminum-rich inclusions, which are some of the first materials to form in our solar system.

And you can see other sort of textures which could be things called condrils. Again, these form very early in the solar system. But there's so much information in this really sort of quite inconspicuous looking rock. People say they look a little bit like tarmac or charcoal briquettes. But they're far more interesting than charcoal briquettes.

ELIZABETH II: Fascinating.

MAGGIE ADERIN-POCOCK: So I think next, I'd like to go on and introduce Alexandra and Fiona from the science museum. And they'll be actually doing a live demonstration for us.

- Good afternoon, Your Majesty. Sadly, we can't welcome visitors just yet, but we have been doing plenty of work behind the scenes to engage young people during the pandemic, as well as support parents and carers during this really challenging time. Now, I'm going to hand you over to my colleague Fiona, who will talk about the work we did with Thomas Jones School.

- Thanks, Alex. Good afternoon, Your Majesty. So yes, this morning we had a really fun session with the Thomas Jones School where we talked a little bit about space and we talked about rockets. We had a chat a little bit about Perseverance as well, and the Mars rover. And we also did an experiment with them.

- Had an absolutely brilliant morning with the science museum creating our-- our rocket lights. So Ibrahim, would you like to explain a little bit about how we made our rocket light?

- Good afternoon, Your Majesty. Today, I will explain to you how we've done it. So first what we do, is we cut out a mouse rocket template. Next, we formed it into a currency and decorated it. Finally, we had to put it on the top of the bottle. And then, we swish it really hard. And then, it will launch like this.

[LAUGHTER]

ELIZABETH II: Very successful.

[LAUGHTER]

- Three, two, one.

[CHEERING AND LAUGHTER]

ELIZABETH II: That sounds splendid. Well, that's been very interesting to hear. And I hope the children have enjoyed it, too, because they might learn something from it as well. And 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. So it's a great pleasure to see you all.

MAGGIE ADERIN-POCOCK: Thank you so much, Your Majesty.

- Thank you, Your Majesty.

ELIZABETH II: Bye!

MAGGIE ADERIN-POCOCK: Good bye.

- Bye.

- Bye.

CAROLINE SMITH: Bye.

- Bye.