The first woman announced as NASA's head of science hails from Hitchin and said her parents were the first people to inspire her to follow her dreams.

Dr Nicola Fox, who attended St Francis' College in Letchworth, previously led NASA's heliophysics division, overseeing the agency’s efforts to study the Sun and how its constant solar wind affects Earth and other planets.

She has now been announced as the associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate.

"As NASA’s head of science, Fox’s portfolio includes more than 100 NASA missions to explore the secrets of the universe – missions that assess questions as far ranging as how hurricanes form on Earth, how we can support astronauts on the Moon, and whether we are alone in the universe," a spokesperson for the space agency explained.


Dr Fox said: "My parents were the first people to inspire me to follow my dreams and to not be bound by any limitations. Both of them pushed me hard to excel and to believe that I could do whatever I wanted, as long as I worked hard enough."

Explaining how she first landed a job at NASA, Dr Fox said she was attending a conference in Alaska as a graduate student, and was presenting her work during a poster session when a senior scientist asked her if he could interest her in a job at NASA.

"This was one of those pivotal moments in life where you know your life is going to change," she said.

"After graduating with my PhD [in space and atmospheric physics at Imperial College London in 1995], I left the safety of my home environment and set out for the USA."


Reflecting, Dr Fox said: "There was no one thing that first sparked my interest in science, I just always loved it. I love the logic of it. There is always a reason why something happens and there are always mysteries to solve.

"The key to being a scientist is to love asking questions. If you are fascinated about how and why things work – you are already a scientist."

In 2021, Dr Fox was awarded the American Astronautical Society’s Carl Sagan Memorial Award for her demonstrated leadership in heliophysics, and in 2020 received NASA’s Outstanding Leadership Medal.