East Anglian astronaut: Nan didn’t understand why I didn’t just meet a nice man

PUBLISHED: 13:15 08 December 2018 | UPDATED: 13:15 08 December 2018

Dr. Carly Howett who is the assistant director of the Department of Space Studies at the Southwest Research Institue in Colorado. Picture Dr Carly Howett.

Dr. Carly Howett who is the assistant director of the Department of Space Studies at the Southwest Research Institue in Colorado. Picture Dr Carly Howett.


Dr Carly Howett is the assistant director of the Department of Space Studies at the Southwest Research Institute in Colorado USA. She studies icy worlds and is on four NASA missions: New Horizons (to Pluto), Lucy (to Jupiter’s asteroids), Cassini (to Saturn) and Europa Clipper (to Jupiter’s moon Europa). She talks to Gina Long MBE.

What is your connection to East Anglia?

My family home is near Stowmarket, my sister and brother all still live in East Anglia, so I return as often as I can to see them. Many of my friends also still live here, and since James Gooding (a very dear friend) isn’t able to leave Ipswich, I have to come back to see him too!

What is your East Anglian Heaven ie what do you love most about East Anglia?

My family, friends, the seaside, and Aldeburgh fish and chips.

What is your East Anglian Hell ie what you hate most about living here?

The A12.

What’s your favourite East Anglian restaurant?

Four Horseshoes pub in Thornham Magna, it’s so cosy!

What’s your favourite way to spend an East Anglian evening?

A walk along the seafront, or a quiet pint in a cosy pub.

What’s your favourite East Anglian landmark?

Felixstowe pier.

What’s the best thing that happens in East Anglia every year?

Christmas with my family, particularly the Christmas Eve service in the Church of St Mary in Mendlesham. It’s a family tradition, and one that marks the true beginning of Christmas for me.

What your specialist Mastermind subject?


What is always in your fridge?

A drawing my daughter has done.

What’s your simple philosophy of life?

Be happy. Life is too short not to be.

What’s your favourite film?

Lord of the Rings, particularly if I get to watch it with my brother.

What was your first job?

Babysitting, then a waitress at the Wimpy, followed by cashier at B&Q.

What is your most treasured possession?

My wedding ring.

Who do you admire most?

My mum. She taught me kindness, empathy and love for people. She also has an amazing sense of humour. My siblings are a close second. My sister went from almost dropping out of high school to becoming an accountant, she’s proof that anything is possible, and my brother overcome a brain tumour to go onto get a Ph.D. in neuroscience in part to better understand his experience. I’m very proud of them both.

What is your biggest 

British chocolate. When living in the USA it’s more expensive than the local stuff, but totally worth the money!

What do you like about yourself most?

The outreach I do, particularly with girls, I think it’s important for them to see successful women scientists.

What’s your worst character trait?

I try and do everything “my own self”, and not rely on others enough. This is particularly a problem when trying to raise a daughter, run a home, be a wife, daughter, sibling, friend, work four space missions and have management responsibilities too. I need to get better at asking for help!

Where is your favourite holiday destination?

East Anglia! I love coming home.

Best day of your life?

My wedding day, followed by the birth of our daughter, followed by the New Horizons Pluto encounter, making an image that went from my desktop to being retweeted six hours later by the President of the USA was pretty special.

What’s your favourite breakfast?

Bacon sarnie.

What’s your favourite tipple?

A good glass of red wine, G&T, or a Pimms in summer.

What’s your hidden talent?

I can balance a spoon on my nose for a surprisingly long time.

When were you most embarrassed?

At about 14 when I found out I had a hole in my trousers in exactly the place you wouldn’t want a hole, when I was half way up a climbing wall with the kids at my youth club below. It was mortifying.

What’s your earliest memory?

Girl guides campfire, on my dad’s shoulders (my mum was guide leader).

What song would you like played at your funeral?

Always look on the bright side of life.

Tell us something people don’t know about you?

I’m still quite scared of the dark and don’t like the cold, which are rubbish traits in an astronomer.

What’s the worst thing anyone has ever said to you?

Why are you bothering going to university, why don’t you just meet a nice man? It was my Nan and she didn’t understand my life choices at all, until much later when she saw what happiness and opportunities it brought.

Tell us why you moved to the USA?

Sadly, I don’t live in East Anglia anymore, but get my regular fix when visiting my family…… I moved to the USA about 10 years ago, originally for a two-year position, then met a boy, and had a baby, and stayed. I love science, in the USA there are fantastic opportunities in this sector, however, I miss the UK a lot, especially East Anglia. I hope to move back one day, I am worried that it’s getting harder here, due to EU funding possibly being in jeopardy with Brexit.

What do you want to tell our readers about most?

Science is for everyone. It’s based on your ability to think logically and solve problems. Your gender, sexuality, wealth, and appearance are irrelevant.

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