The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee
HRH Queen Elizabeth II. Credit: Defence Images

The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee

30/05/2022Written by Dhara Patel

Celebrating the Queen’s reign, space history, and cultural highlights over the past 70 years as part of the Platinum Jubilee!

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A lot has happened during the Queen’s 70-year long reign. We look back at some of the iconic songs and sci-fi movies through the decades of her sovereignty, along with scientific breakthroughs and pivotal space missions that have made their mark in history, like our Monarch. 

1950s

1950s
A technician puts the finishing touches on Sputnik 1. Credit: NASA/Asif A. Siddiqi
1950s
The Soviet’s Luna 1 probe, originally called Cosmic Rocket by the Soviet Press. Credit: NASA/JPL
1950s
Queen Elizabeth II after her coronation day in 1953. Credit: BiblioArchives / LibraryArchives from Canada

Hit single from the decade: 

Bill Haley & His Comets – (We’re Gonna) Rock Around the Clock (1954). This hit was the first rock and roll record to reach number one on the US charts, holding that position for two months.  

Must see sci-fi movie from the decade:  

War of the Worlds (1953). Adapted from the H.G. Wells novel, this film won the Oscar for Best Visual Effects.  

Notable space mission from the decade:  

The Soviet Union’s Sputnik 1 became Earth’s first artificial satellite on 4 October 1957. After 22 days the small satellite’s batteries ran out, and after 1440 orbits it re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere and burned up. This Soviet success led to the American ‘Sputnik crisis’, evolving into what would become the Space Race.  

Key scientific discovery from the decade:  

Though suggested in years previously, the Soviet spacecraft Luna 1 was the first to directly observe and measure the solar wind, which was confirmed in later years by Luna 2 and 3. Luna 1 was intended to impact the Moon, but due to a guidance error it instead became the first spacecraft to enter orbit around the Sun.  

Notable event involving the Queen from the decade:  

The Queen’s Coronation took place on 2 June 1953, following her accession to the throne on 6 February 1952. She is currently the longest reigning incumbent Monarch and longest reigning female Monarch in history. This year she becomes the second longest reigning Monarch in history, behind only Louis XIV of France.

Written by Ed Turner

1960s

1960s
I'm a Believer: The Best of the Monkees, album cover. Credit: Brett Jordan
1960s
Buzz Aldrin on the Moon. Credit: Neil Armstrong/NASA
1960s
Queen Elizabeth II and John F. Kennedy. Credit: National Parks Gallery

Hit single from the decade: 

The Monkees – I’m a Believer (1966). The biggest selling single in 1967, spent eight weeks at number one in the US, four weeks at number one in the UK, and was number one in ten other countries.

Must see sci-fi movie from the decade: 

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Renowned for its scientific accuracy it won the 1969 academy award for best special visual effects, and it is still considered by many as one of the most influential sci-fi films of all time.  

Notable space mission from the decade: 

The Apollo 11 mission in July 1969 took astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins to the Moon. Michael orbited the Moon while Neil and Buzz became the first people to walk on the surface, collecting Moon samples, deploying experiments, and broadcasting live to approximately 650 million viewers worldwide.  

Key scientific discovery from the decade: 

In 1962, the US launched their Mariner 2 probe which became the first spacecraft to flyby Venus close enough to take scientific measurements of Earth’s ‘twin’ planet. Passing just under 35,000km to Venus, it discovered the Venusian surface experienced temperatures over 420 degrees Celsius – that’s hot enough to melt lead! 

Notable event involving the Queen from the decade: 

President Kennedy visited the Queen shortly after his speech stating America would land men on the Moon by the end of the decade. When this happened, a disc with messages from the Queen and other world leaders was left on the Moon. The astronauts met the Queen after they returned.  

Written by Elspeth Lewis

1970s

1970s
A scene from the first Star Wars movie, A New Hope, released in 1977. Credit: FILMGRAB
1970s
The Apollo 13 capsule is recovered after returning to Earth. Credit: NASA
1970s
HRH Prince Charles at the opening of the Jubilee line in 1979. Credit: London Transport Museum

Hit single from the decade: 

Gloria Gaynor – I Will Survive (1978). I Will Survive was a UK number one hit in March 1979 and stayed at the top of the charts for four weeks. It won the 1979 Grammy for Best Disco Recording. 

Must see sci-fi movie from the decade: 

Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977). This won 21 Awards, including six Academy Awards, one Golden Globe and two BAFTAs. 

Notable space mission from the decade: 

The Apollo 13 mission which launched on 11 April 1970 is known as a successful failure. Two days into the mission the oxygen tank exploded so the mission was aborted. The crew survived as they looped around the Moon and returned safely to Earth on 17 April. 

Key scientific discovery from the decade: 

Comprising even the smallest atoms are subatomic particles, and in 1974 two groups of American physicists independently discovered the J/psi particle (made up of a charmed and anti-charmed quark). They went on to win the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1976 with their discovery providing support for the theory that there existed a fourth ‘charmed’ quark in addition to the up, down, and strange quark!  

Notable event involving the Queen from the decade: 

In 1977 her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II celebrated her Silver Jubilee of 25 years on the throne. Throughout 1977 the Queen and Prince Philip visited 36 counties in Britain and the then under-construction line of the London Underground was retitled as the Jubilee line. 

Written by Lucy Spencer

1980s

1980s
1987 American science fiction action film starring Peter Weller as RoboCop. Credit: FILMGRAB
1980s
The morning launch of Space Shuttle Columbia in 1981 (STS-1) carrying astronauts John Young and Robert Crippen. Credit: NASA
1980s
Colour photograph of Prof. Sir Alec Jeffreys in his lab in the Genetics Department, with a set of illuminated DNA fingerprint charts. Credit: University of Leicester

Hit single from the decade: 

Survivor – Eye of the Tiger (1982). This iconic eighties hit was written at the behest of Sylvester Stallone. He was denied “Another one bites the dust” by Queen and needed a main theme song for Rocky III. It went straight to number one in the charts and stayed there for six consecutive weeks. 

Must see sci-fi movie from the decade: 

RoboCop (1987). This dystopian sci-fi action film released to moderate success in the summer of 1987, and it won the Saturn Award for Best Science Fiction Film, Best Writing and Best Special Effects – it’s a masterpiece that represents the decade perfectly! 

Notable space mission from the decade: 

On 12 April 1981, NASA launched the maiden flight of Space Shuttle Columbia, the first reusable orbital spacecraft flight. Its two crew flew on a two-day and six-hour mission tasked with leaving the Earth, coming back, and landing in one piece. It succeeded!

Key scientific discovery from the decade: 

One of the most influential discoveries from the 1980’s came from our very own University of Leicester! In 1984, a British geneticist, Sir Alec Jeffrey discovered a technique for DNA fingerprinting. This was huge and these techniques have helped the police revolutionise the way they fight crime. 

Notable event involving the Queen from the decade: 

Back at the beginning of the decade in 1980, Queen Elizabeth II did something no other British Monarch had ever done. On the 17 October she travelled to the Vatican to meet with the pope to strengthen the bonds between the Roman Catholic religions and the Church of England.  

Written by Mike Darch

1990s

1990s
The Hubble Space Telescope being deployed from the cargo bay of the Space Shuttle Discovery. Credit: NASA
1990s
Impression of exoplanets orbiting a pulsar. Credit: NASA
1990s
QEII Bridge, London. Credit: Christine Matthews

Hit single from the decade: 

Spice Girls – Wannabe (1996). This was the Spice Girls’ debut single and won the British Single of the Year at the 1997 Brit Awards. 

 Must see sci-fi movie from the decade: 

Men in Black (1997). Lead actor Will Smith began his solo music career in 1997 with the release of “Men in Black”, the theme song for the film. This iconic film was based on a six-issue comic book by Lowell Cunningham and Sandy Carruthers. 

Notable space mission from the decade:  

After years of planning, the Hubble Space Telescope was launched to space on 24 April 1990. Having been in space over 30 years now, Hubble has looked billions of years into the past and is responsible for some of the most incredible scientific discoveries and photographs of our universe.  

Key scientific discovery from the decade: 

The first two exoplanets (planets orbiting a star outside our Solar System) were observed in January 1992 by Aleksander Wolszczan and Dale Frail. These two rocky worlds were found orbiting a pulsar, and their discovery marked the beginning of a universe-wide hunt for more of these exoplanets. Since then, over 5000 have been found. 

Notable event involving the Queen from the decade: 

From ocean liners to parks, there are many things named after our Monarch and in 1991, the £120 million Queen Elizabeth II bridge joined the club. It was the first bridge to be built on a new stretch along the river Thames for more than 50 years and remains a vital link on the M25 route circling the capital. 

Written by Catherine Muller

2000s

2000s
The epic sci-fi film Avatar that sees humans colonise an exomoon called Pandora which is home to the Na'vi – the indigenous humanoid species. Credit: FILMGRAB
2000s
2000s
Phoenix's stereo camera caught water ice changing from solid to gas (sublimating) over several days as the region was bathed in Martian sunlight. Credit: NASA
2000s
During her visit to the National Space Centre as part of the Golden jubilee tour, the Queen is shown by British astronaut Helen Sharman, the Soyuz seat she used in her 1991 spaceflight, now on display. Credit: National Space Centre

Hit single from the decade: 

A.R. Rahman feat. The Pussycat Dolls – Jai Ho! (You Are My Destiny) (2008). Receiving critical acclaim, the song was used as the soundtrack to the hit film Slumdog Millionaire. 

Must see sci-fi movie from the decade: 

Avatar (2009). Currently the highest grossing movie of all time. It won a total of 89 awards including three Oscars..  

Notable space mission from the decade: 

In November 2000, three astronauts became the first inhabitants of the International Space Station on the Expedition 1 mission. It marked the beginning of an uninterrupted human presence in space which continues now, over 20 years later. Over 250 people from 20 different countries have visited this Earth orbiting station.  

Key scientific discovery from the decade: 

In 2008, NASA’s Phoenix lander confirmed for the first time, the existence of water ice on Mars. The finding further propelled scientists to uncover whether life has or still exists on Mars, and why the planet has evolved into a dry and cold place now. This discovery spurred continued exploration of Mars with missions like Mars 2020. 

Notable event involving the Queen from the decade: 

In August 2002, HRH Queen Elizabeth II visited the National Space Centre as part of her Golden Jubilee tour and for the official opening. During her speech she commented that “Over this Jubilee summer I have travelled widely, but I hope I will be forgiven for having limited my tour to the Earth’s surface.”

Written by Dhara Patel

2010s

2010s
Second from right, is Matt Damon’s spacesuit from the Martian – displayed at the National Space Centre. Credit: National Space Centre
2010s
After arriving at the south pole for the first time, Juno captured this stunning view of Jupiter whilst gliding about 100,000 km above the clouds. Credit: NASA
2010s
An animation showing the ripples in space-time (gravitational waves) created when two black holes collide. Credit: LIGO/T. Pyle

Hit single from the decade: 

We Found Love – Rihanna (2011). Featuring Calvin Harris, the single made Rihanna the first female solo artist to achieve six number one singles in the UK in five consecutive years.

Must see sci-fi movie from the decade: 

The Martian (2015). The Golden Globe winner for Best Motion Picture. We have Damon’s film suit on display at the National Space Centre! 

Notable space mission from the decade: 

NASA’s Juno probe was launched in 2011 and arrived at Jupiter five years later. The spacecraft has since studied the planet’s gravitational and magnetic fields, its composition, and produced some of the most detailed photos ever taken of the gas giant. 

Key scientific discovery from the decade: 

In 2015 the LIGO observatories in Washington and Louisiana felt the first detected gravitational waves. Despite being proposed by Albert Einstein nearly 100 years earlier, this aftershock between two black holes colliding was the first direct detection of these waves existing. 

Notable event involving the Queen from the decade: 

Her Majesty made an entrance for the ages at the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games, parachuting into the stadium alongside James Bond. Whilst rumours of a stunt double persist, it was definitely The Queen in the preceding film with Daniel Craig, making her the first reigning UK Monarch to act onscreen. 

Written by Alex Thompson

About the authors: Ed Turner, Elspeth Lewis, Lucy Spencer, Mike Darch, Catherine Muller, Dhara Patel and Alex Thompson are members of the Discovery Team at the National Space Centre.