In the news: Monica Grady

December 19, 2003

When the Beagle 2 probe separates from the Mars Express spacecraft this Friday, a host of British scientists will feel their pulses quicken.

Monica Grady will have more reason than most for feeling profoundly excited, and not a little anxious, about the imminent arrival of the UK's probe on the red planet, expected early on Christmas day.

As head of petrology and meteoritics at London's Natural History Museum, her expertise in extracting the story of our solar system from the bits of rock that smack into the earth from space will help interpret Beagle 2 's findings as it scratches around on the Martian surface throughout January.

Furthermore, her husband Ian Wright, deputy head of the Planetary and Space Sciences Research Institute at the Open University, is the brains behind a key instrument on board the lander that will hunt for signs of Martian life.

Dr Grady's former PhD supervisor at Cambridge University was Colin Pillinger, whose vision and drive has carried Beagle 2 the 400 million km to Mars just as much as the European Space Agency spacecraft on which it has hitched a ride.

And as if this was not enough, Dr Grady will be hoping to stage a television link up with images from a camera on board.

This will come during the Royal Institution's Christmas Lectures , which the scientist will be hosting over five days.

Dr Grady will guide an audience of 200 schoolchildren, and many more Channel 4 viewers, on a voyage in space and time, from distant galaxies to local asteroids.

She follows in the footsteps of Michael Faraday, Baroness Greenfield and Carl Sagan in giving the lectures. But when Beagle 2 sends a picture from Mars, Dr Grady will be a part of the UK's most exciting scientific venture in decades.

The Royal Institution Christmas Lectures will be on Channel 4 daily from December 28 to January 1.

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