Space scientist Maggie Aderin-Pocock: ‘I was underestimated as a child. I want to tell kids to reach for the stars’ | Life and style | Space

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Maggie Aderin-Pocock in 1975 and 2024

Maggie Aderin-Pocock in 1975 and 2024. Later photograph: Pål Hansen. Styling: Andie Redman. Hair and makeup: Sadaf Ahmad. Archive photograph: courtesy of Maggie Aderin-Pocock.

Born in London in 1968 to Nigerian parents, Maggie Aderin-Pocock is a scientist and presenter of The Sky at Night. She trained as a physicist – graduating from Imperial College London with a PhD in 1994, and working for the Ministry of Defence on landmine detection and missile warning systems. She has since designed a host of space instruments, become the first Black woman to win a gold medal in the Physics News Award and in 2013 took over from Patrick Moore as a co-host of the BBC’s long-running astronomy show. Aderin-Pocock is one of the panellists for the National Trust’s Time + Space Award, a new initiative to give 16- to 25-year-olds the resources to explore ideas.

This was my Nigerian passport photo. I was quite excited to have my picture taken and my sister was, too. We were wearing Ladybird dresses from Woolworths. Mine was green with a collar and hers was red. I remember I was quite envious of hers.

At a first glance my expression is quite innocent, but when I look closer it’s not quite as sweet. There’s a determination in those eyes that surprises me. I didn’t think I had much of that at this age, but I must have done.

Getting a Nigerian passport made me feel I had more of an identity, because, generally speaking, I didn’t feel as if I belonged anywhere. I didn’t speak any Nigerian language and I had never been there, but at the same time I didn’t fit in in the UK. I was Black and living in Camden so, at school, students would say things like, “Go home.”

Thankfully, my passion for space came along. I was born a year before the moon landings. Throughout my childhood, space was infused everywhere. I realised that when you look at Earth from space, you don’t see barriers or division – you just see the planet. That…

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