Fly me to the moon, says Yorkshire comet professor

Monica Grady
Monica Grady
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THE YORKSHIRE-BORN scientist who was thrust into the spotlight as a face of the historic Philae comet-landing has set her sights on a mission to the Moon.

Professor Monica Grady made worldwide news with her emotional reaction to news the European Space Agency probe had successfully breaking away from the Rosetta spacecraft and touched down on comet 67P, 300 million miles from Earth.

Her jubilant, tearful celebrations at mission control in Germany last week, which contained an instrument she helped to build, were broadcast across the globe.

And the Open University lecturer, who was born and raised in Leeds, has already begun work examining data collected with the tool she worked on, a shoe-box-sized gas analysis instrument called Ptolemy.

Results from the lander’s drilling system will give her team information on the chemical composition of the comet, and how they could have carried water and complex organics to the planets which prepared the stage for life on Earth.

“We’re looking at the elements which are the building blocks of life,” Prof Grady told The Yorkshire Post.

While that might sound a daunting task, it has not prevented her from taking on a leading role as scientific adviser to a new British consortium which wants to land a probe on the Moon in 10 years’ time.

The plan for the £500million Lunar Mission One, unveiled this week, asks for contributions in exchange for the chance to have photos, text and their DNA included in a time capsule which will be buried under the Moon’s surface.

Prof Grady, an ex-pupil of Leeds’ former Notre Dame School, now a sixth-form, said: “Our aim is to go and drill on the Moon and look at the water on it in the same way we’re doing with the comet.

“It will tell us about the origin of life, the origin of the Solar System, and help us understand how the Moon and more about its relationship with Earth.”

Prof Grady, one of seven siblings, credits her upbringing in the region for the insatiable appetite for all things astronomical which inspires her work.

“Living in Leeds, close to places like Malham, out there you look up at the night sky and see the stars and it’s really inspiring,” said the 56-year-old, now based in Milton Keynes.

It is hoped interest Lunar Mission One will be buoyed by the frenzy which surrounded Philae’s landing, which saw Prof Grady make the news in several countries.

Keeping a close eye on scenes back home in Yorkshire was her 82-year-old mother, who lives in Roundhay, and her extended family.

After appearing on BBC coverage celebrating the landing, she brought back hurtling back down to earth by her teenage niece, a pupil at Roundhay School.

“I got a text saying ‘most embarrassing auntie ever’ after I’d been on the news,” Prof Grady said.

Members of the consortium include television presenter and scientist Professor Brian Cox and the Astronomer Royal Lord Rees, along with other space enthusiasts and businesses.

Prof Grady said: “I really hope that it has the same effect as Rosetta that so gripped the world.”