‘I’ve got the best job on the planet’: British scientist from Hertfordshire lands top job at NASA
- Nicola Fox, who was born in Hitchin, Hertfordshire, has landed ‘role of a lifetime’
- She is the first Briton to hold the role in 65-year history of the US space agency
- Fox will now be responsible for a budget of almost $8 billion (£6.65 billion)
A British woman has become Nasa’s chief scientist, saying she has landed ‘the best job on the planet’.
Nicola Fox, who was born in Hitchin, Hertfordshire, said it was ‘the role of a lifetime’ and compared it to winning a Grammy or an Oscar.
She is the first Briton and only the second woman to hold the role in the 65-year history of the US space agency and will manage a budget of almost $8 billion (£6.65 billion).
Dr Fox has held a lifelong interest in space ever since her father held her up to the television to witness astronaut Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the Moon in 1969, when she was just nine months old.
‘I apparently stirred in my crib so my father propped me up in front of the TV so I could watch this momentous event,’ she said.
Nicola Fox, who was born in Hitchin, Hertfordshire, said it was ‘the role of a lifetime’ as she becomes Nasa’s chief scientist
Fox is the first Briton and only the second woman to hold the role in the 65-year history of the US space agency
‘He gave me a running commentary through the entire thing and now takes full credit for my interest in space.’
However, the 54-year-old believed she would never fulfil her ambitions as for many years Britain didn’t have an active space programme. She said: ‘Growing up in Hitchin, you might dream of working for Nasa but it certainly doesn’t seem as if it could ever be a reality.’
She told Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘Whatever you’re interested in, whatever your heart tells you you’re interested in, that’s what you should do.’
Dr Fox has previously spoken about how the sudden death of her husband in 2010 as her biggest personal challenge after she was left to bring up two children, then aged one and three, while working as a senior scientist.
At the time of his death, she was leading a team on the Parker Solar Probe, a spacecraft that will orbit the Sun at up to 430,000mph, making it the fastest object ever built.
She described the project as ‘deeply personal’ and she put her husband’s name on the spacecraft when it was launched in 2018.
She tells her children that their father is ‘going to orbit the Sun for ever’.
Dr Fox was appointed as associate administrator for Nasa’s science department after the previous science chief quit following a dispute with bosses over plans to explore Mars.
Dr Fox attended the all-girls St Francis’ College in Letchworth, Hertfordshire, in the 1980s, then studied physics at Imperial College London and completed a master’s degree in satellite and computer engineering at the University of Surrey, where she was one of just four women in a cohort of 280 students.
She went back to Imperial to complete a PhD before moving to an American university, where she became involved in Nasa.
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