On September 9, 2015, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II became the longest reigning monarch in UK history, surpassing her great-great-grandmother Victoria. During her reign there have been 12 US Presidents and the same number of British Prime-ministers, seven Popes… and the whole space exploration era.
Serving as the Queen of the United Kingdom and 15 other Commonwealth realms for over 63 years, she have met with thousands of extraordinary people, from dictators to presidents, from artists to scientists, from sportsmen to astronauts.
On July 14, 1961, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh accepted at Buckingham Palace the first man in space Yuri Gagarin, and had a lunch with him. It is rumored that Queen Elizabeth II made a photo with the cosmonaut contrary to etiquette. She explained this move by saying that Gagarin was not an ordinary man, but a man from space.
On February 4, 1964, Queen Elizabeth II greeted first woman in space Russian cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, who visited the UK for a week-long visit. Later, on October 14, 1969, the Queen received at Buckingham Palace the first men on the Moon, Neil Armstrong and Edwin 'Buzz' Aldrin, as well as their Apollo 11 colleague Michael Collins.
On February 28, 1983, on the 3rd day of a 10-day tour to the US, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip visited Rockwell International Corporation in Los Angeles, California, where they saw Apollo 14 command module, the spaceship named 'Kitty Hawk' that astronaut Alan Shepherd, Stuart Roosa, and Edgar Mitchell flew on a 10-day mission in 1971.Then the royal couple entered a flight simulator that duplicated Space Shuttle cockpit. Outside the window, screens duplicated the view a pilot would get. The queen sat in the pilot's seat with the prince behind her while an automatic pilot brought the spacecraft down in a simulated dive from 25,000 feet into the sudden flare-out of a landing at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Then the queen moved back and Philip, a pilot, was allowed to take the control stick and 'land' the shuttle by himself.
Near the end of the Queen's visit to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the Jamestown settlement in Virginia, on May 8, 2007, Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh visited NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. NASA Administrator Michael Griffin greeted the Queen at Goddard's (photos below, credit: NASA Goddard).During her visit, she talked to the International Space Station crew, met with NASA astronauts, talked to students and Goddard employees, and was presented with a framed photograph of the Hubble Space Telescope by Senators Steny Hoyer and Barbara Mikulski.
On December 8, 2011, Queen Elizabeth II met at Buckingham Palace with Helen Sharman, the first Briton in space and the first woman to visit Mir space station in 1991. Later, in March 2013, she offered her congratulations to Chris Hadfield, the first Canadian and the only subject of Her Majesty, who became Commander of the International Space Station.
Finally, this May the Queen visited UK Space Agency and RHS 'Rocket Science' exhibition at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. In collaboration with ESA, the UK Space Agency launched an 'out-of-this-world' Rocket Science educational project, exhibited during the Show.
The project will see 2 kg of seeds sent to the International Space Station as part of ESA astronaut Timothy Peake's six-month Principia mission. After several months in space, the seeds will be returned to Earth and sent to thousands of UK schools, together with a batch of seeds that stayed on Earth. Pupils will grow and compare the seeds to see whether space travel has an impact on the growth of the seeds.
Notably, the UK Space Agency has been and will be intimately connected with Her Majesty, since the establishment of the Agency was announced by Lord Mandelson, Lord Drayson and astronaut Tim Peake at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre on 23 March, 2010.