Queen in first appearance since Meghan and Harry row as she talks Mars mission

The Queen has spoken for the first time since the Meghan Markle and Prince Harry by giving her take on NASA's Mars mission.

The monarch spoke at a virtual event with experts and schoolchildren to mark British Science Week.

It comes after the space agency landed its Perseverance rover on the Red Planet last month, and said the most important part of space travel form humans was returning home.

She also said she was "glad" the rare 4billion-year-old Winchcombe meteorite, which crashed into a driveway at a house in Gloucestershire last month, "didn't hit anyone".

The video call symposium was held on Wednesday, just a few days after the Duke and Duchess of Sussex's bombshell interview in which they fired accusations at the royal family.

The Queen met the first man in space – Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin – in 1961 soon after his historic mission, and when she was asked during the video call what he was like, she made everyone laugh by replying: "Russian."

She explained he did not speak English, and added: "It was very interesting to meet him, and I suppose being the first one, it was particularly fascinating."

Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock, a scientist and co-presenter on the BBC's The Sky At Night programme, said of Gagarin: "It must have been very terrifying to be the first one, and not really knowing what was going to happen."

The Queen quipped: "Well, yes – and if you could come back again. That's very important."

Gagarin went on a world tour soon after his space mission in April 1961 and was invited to lunch at Buckingham Palace by the Queen, and he also met then prime minister Harold Macmillan.

Dr Aderin-Pocock, said after the video call with the Queen: "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 Nasa's Mars Perseverance rover mission by Professor Caroline Smith, who is part of the space agency's team looking for life on the red planet.

Professor Smith, head of earth sciences collections and principal curator of meteorites at the Natural History Museum, showed the Queen pictures taken by the rover which landed on Mars last month.

When the Queen was shown an image of the Jezero Crater region where the rover landed, she said: "It's very rock-strewn, isn't it."

She said later in the video call: "It's fascinating to see the pictures of Mars – it's unbelievable really to think one can actually see its surface."

Children from Thomas Jones Primary School in Notting Hill, west London, demonstrated their plastic bottle "rocket mice" experiment, where toy mice acted as astronauts.

The Year 4 pupils had taken part in a session for British Science Week with the Science Museum's learning team ahead of the call with the Queen.

After a countdown, the group fired the mice into the air and the Queen said "splendid" as she laughed.

She added: "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.

"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."

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