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Queen Elizabeth II in space history: astronaut meets to moon memo

September 9, 2022

— As Britain's longest-serving monarch, Queen Elizabeth II's reign over the United Kingdom spanned the entire history of space exploration, from the launch of the first satellite through the first moon landings to the flight of the first Briton on the International Space Station.

On Thursday (Sept. 8), Queen Elizabeth II died at the age of 96.

"As we join the planet in marking her passing, we are moved by the curiosity Her Royal Highness showed our explorers over the years," NASA officials wrote on Twitter within hours of the news of her death.

The U.S. space agency later posted to its website a 2007 photo of the Queen meeting with employees at Goddard Space Flight Center. Part of a state visit, the Queen and her husband, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, met with British-born NASA astronaut Michael Foale and spoke with the crew aboard the International Space Station from a control room at the Maryland center.

"Good morning Your Majesty and all the distinguished guests at Goddard, thanks for joining us today in our home," said NASA astronaut Suni Williams, who at the time was a flight engineer on the station's 15th expedition crew.

The space-to-ground exchange was among a number of times Queen Elizabeth II came into contact with the world's space programs.

'Brought (by) man to the moon'

Elizabeth's first meeting with a space explorer was with the world's first human to fly into space. Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin was received by the Queen during his post-flight world tour on July 14, 1961.

"He was fascinating, and I suppose being the first one, it was particularly fascinating," she said of Gagarin during a British Science Week event in 2021.

Eight years after meeting Gagarin, the Queen met with another first — the first men to walk on the moon. Apollo 11 crew members Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins visited Buckingham Palace on Oct. 15, 1969, three months after Armstrong and Aldrin explored the lunar surface.

"God bless Queen Elizabeth, a gracious leader, lady, and our host on return from the moon," Aldrin wrote on Twitter on Thursday. "On behalf of the Apollo 11 crew, Godspeed and God bless the Royal Family."

The meeting was not the only connection Elizabeth II had to the first lunar landing. Her words, along with the messages from other world leaders, were etched onto a small silicon disc that was deposited at Tranquility Base.

"On behalf of the British people I salute the skills and courage which have brought man to the moon. May this endeavour increase the knowledge and well-being of mankind," the Queen's message read.

First Brits in space

In addition to her visit to Goddard, Elizabeth II experienced a simulated space shuttle landing during a 1983 tour of the California plant where the winged orbiters were designed and she toured Mission Control in Houston in 1991.

"Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II's influence reached all corners of the world, and we are so fortunate that we had the privilege of hosting her visit to Johnson Space Center. We join the planet in honoring her memory," officials at the center wrote.

The Queen's encounters with space were not limited to other countries' activities and people.

On several occasions, she met with the first Briton in space, Helen Sharman, whose 1991 trip to Russia's space station Mir was organized in part by a consortium of British companies. In 2002, the two toured the National Space Centre in Leicester, England.

"I have travelled widely, but I hope I will be forgiven for having limited my tour to the Earth's surface," the Queen said during her remarks at the museum.

Sixteen years later in 2018, the Queen honored Sharman, making her a Companion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George (CMG) for her services to science and technology education outreach.

Queen Elizabeth II also appointed former Canadian Space Agency astronaut Julie Payette as governor general to serve as her representative from 2017 to 2021.

"Her dignity, sense of duty and resilience were admired around the world," Payette wrote on Twitter. "Rest in peace your Majesty."

Tim Peake, the United Kingdom's first European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut, also met with and was recognized by the Queen. In 2015, she sent a message to Peake on the eve of his launch.

"Prince Philip and I are pleased to transmit our best wishes to Major Timothy Peake as he joins the International Space Station in orbit," she wrote. "We hope that Major Peake's work on the Space Station will serve as an inspiration to a new generation of scientists and engineers."

Later, after he returned to Earth, Peake presented the Queen with the British flag he wore on his spacesuit while performing a spacewalk outside the station. It was the first Union flag to be worn in the vacuum in space.

"A remarkable woman. Thank you Ma'am for a lifetime of service and dedication," Peake wrote on Thursday. "A sad day and our thoughts are with the Royal Family."


Neil Armstrong, together with his Apollo 11 crewmates Mike Collins and Buzz Aldrin, met Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace on Oct. 15, 1969. (Royal Collection Trust)

Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, the first human in space, met with Queen Elizabeth II during his 1961 world tour. (Royal Collection Trust)

Queen Elizabeth II toured Mission Control at NASA Johnson Space Center in May 1991. (NASA)

Queen Elizabeth II talks with British-American NASA astronaut Piers Sellers at Goddard Spaceflight Center, May 8, 2007, in Maryland. (NASA)

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