Friday 28 October 2016

Professor Monica Grady 'horrified' over emotional Philae probe reaction

Published 26/07/2015 | 00:07

Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko photographed by the Rosetta space probe (ESA/PA)
Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko photographed by the Rosetta space probe (ESA/PA)
Professor Monica Grady was interviewed by Kirsty Young, pictured, on BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs

Leading space scientist Professor Monica Grady has admitted she was "horrified" by the way her emotions spilled over when the Philae probe made its historic landing on a comet.

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Video footage of the professor whooping, jumping, punching the air and hugging BBC science editor David Shukman went viral on Twitter after the craft bounced onto the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on November 12.

Interviewed by Kirsty Young on BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs, she recalled her feelings when she later watched her antics on TV.

Prof Grady said: "Oh, I was horrified ... When I got back I was appalled at the fool I seemed to have made myself, punching the air and yelling 'it's landed!' But in my defence we'd been waiting for a long time to do this."

Since then she had been "absolutely knocked out" by the response of people who praised her "unconscious and unselfconscious outpouring of joy".

Prof Grady, Professor of Planetary and Space Science at the Open University, worked on a shoebox-sized instrument on Philae called Ptolemy that sniffs and analyses gas and dust. Ptolemy's principal investigator is her husband and Open University colleague Professor Ian Wright.

During her guest appearance on Desert Island Discs she spoke of the "beauty" of moon rocks and meteorites, her decision to have just one child, extraterrestrial life, and her Catholic faith.

Brought up in Leeds, the eldest of eight children, Prof Grady spent 14 years at the Natural History Museum in London after studying at Durham and Cambridge universities. As someone interested in meteorites, she was "like a kid in a sweet shop" at the Natural History Museum.

She said she had never experienced discrimination as a woman in science and had a "very, very supportive husband".

Referring to their one-child family, she said: "It was a decision we took. Was it the right decision, the wrong decision? I don't know. Child care is much better now than it was then; employers are much more open minded, much more flexible, but the woman has to do the child bearing and the labour and the feeding afterwards, and you have to take a career break even if it's only a month."

Prof Grady grew up in a Roman Catholic household and the church remains important to her.

She told Kirsty Young: "My faith just permeates everything; it's just there. But I'm not a creationist."

Life is unlikely to be confined to the Earth even in our own solar system, she believes, with comets carrying its raw ingredients to different planets.

"I think there's a really, really good chance of finding some type of simple life form," she said.

Among Prof Grady's chosen records were Bat Out Of Hell by Meatloaf, Vienna by Ultravox, and Leonardo Salzedo's Divertimento - better known as the Open University's fanfare.

The book she wanted to take to the island was James Joyce's Ulysses, and the luxury a flute given to her on her 50th birthday by her husband.

Press Association

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