40 years ago, the first Frenchman in space (1/2)

Part 1: the meeting between the bear and the rooster

Since the creation of the Cnes in December 1961, France has implemented its own space policy in the service of greatness and independence. But since the economic and technological means are not the two superpowers, Cne’s officials count on cooperation, also with the Soviet ideological enemy …

A favorable but delicate context

At the request of General de Gaulle, the Franco-Soviet space cooperation for “peaceful purposes” was established by the Treaty of Moscow, signed on 30 June 1966. This cooperation was then carried out through commissions placed under the Cnes and Intercosmos (Soviet Academy of Sciences) Committee for International Collaboration in Space). During the first half of the 1960s, while the Soviets and the Americans settled permanently in orbit around the Earth through orbital stations (Saliout and Skylab), French scientists became interested in manned flights. In 1974, the issue was raised during a Cnes-Intercosmos meeting. The case must be followed and negotiated …

Meanwhile, the Americans are building their fleet of space shuttles and offering their allies to participate in their next manned flights. For this, ESA (European Space Agency) recruited astronauts in 1977 … but no Frenchman was selected. French frustration did not escape the Soviet authorities, who during the visit of French President Valery Giscard d’Estaing to Moscow from 26 to 28 April 1979 proposed a French-Soviet manned flight. Since De Gaulle’s visit in June 1966, 34 joint experiments have already been carried out, placed in Soviet machines for studies in astronomy and solar physics, geophysics, biology and materials physics. In addition, three French satellites were also put into orbit by Soviet launch vehicles (Signe 3, Sret 1 and 2).

But 1979 is also the year of the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan … If this new agreement does not call into question the agreement, it will nevertheless embarrass the French authorities. From a geopolitical point of view, the first French-Soviet flight was then shown as a “scientific flight” in accordance with the philosophy of the 1966 Treaty. Cnes was eager to include high-level scientific experiments, and from the summer of 1979 Cnes launched a call for tenders of scientific experiments …

Recruitment and training

… While the mission agreement – called PVH (“First Manned Flight”) – was officially signed on October 20, 1979. The following month, Cnes launched a call for candidates. Of the 193 files preserved, 72 people were selected. After a series of psychological, physiological and physical tests (rotating stool, centrifuge, etc.), in February 1980 there were only five candidates left (Patrick Baudry, Jean-Loup Chrétien, Jean-Pierre Job, Gérard Juin and Françoise Varnier). Following the opinion of the Soviet specialists (who do not retain the only woman), the four men are sent to the USSR, where they become acquainted with Russian techniques (and languages). But in the end, there were only two left. On June 11, 1980, Cnes selected fighter pilots Jean-Loup Chrétien (born in La Rochelle on August 20, 1938) and Patrick Baudry (born in Douala, Cameroon on March 6, 1946), who from September 1980 traveled to the city of Stars near Moscow. , to perfect their education and training to become real “cosmonauts”. For the first time, Westerners are discovering the intimacy of the Soviet gym.

On September 9, 1981, while Patrick Baudry had to take on the role of successor, Jean-Loup Chrétien was officially appointed as a cosmonaut engineer. He was invited to carry out several experiments on board the brand new Salyut 7 station, which was launched on 19 April 1982 at an altitude of 290 km from the perigee and 310 km at the apogee (with an inclination of 51.6 ° at the equator). ), has been occupied since May by the Soyuz T-5 crew, Anatoly Berezovoy and Valentin Lebedev. The latter has as a priority the commissioning of the station to prepare for the arrival of the first visiting crew consisting of Vladimir Djanibekov, Alexandre Ivantchenkov and Jean-Loup Chrétien.

The star man

Traditionally, each manned flight has a badge. For PVH, the Soviets contacted Cnes, as Daniel Metzlé, then head of the Cnes press service, recalls: “We were asked to make the logo because, they said, ‘You have good artists!’ the Soviet flag placed below! It was necessary to change the position of the man, as some have nicknamed the “refugee” because it now gave the feeling that it should take refuge on the French flag! ». Directed by the French painter Michel Granger, the logo reflected the state of mind of the PVH mission, namely the desire to reach and understand the universe to which man is closely attached.

The launch of PVH and the media echo

On June 24, 1982, from the Baikonur Cosmodrome (Kazakhstan), the Soyuz T-6 spacecraft successfully took off using a Soyuz-type launcher. Once in orbit, the three men take off their spacesuits, take time to eat and observe Earth, and then perform maneuvers to join the Salyut 7-Soyuz T-5 orbital train 24 hours after launch.

In France, part of the press follows the affair despite the political malaise associated with the consequences of the Afghan affair, keeping readers excited by presenting the mission and the astronaut. The day after the launch, the 25th. The New Republic announcement: “The Franco-Soviet space. Jean-Loup Chrétien: a smooth launch into orbit”, The Daily of Paris : “HEAVEN! The first French astronaut Jean-Loup Chrétien has got off to a good start”, Republic of the Center, “A SPACES for Jean-Loup Chrétien”, The liberated Parisian : “Jean-Loup Chrétien 8 days in the room”etc. Of course, everyone is aware of what we owe the Soviet Union, as emphasized by Release in large print on the first page: “The Russians turn the French into a short spatial ladder”.

[Suite à paraître vendredi 24 juin]

Some references

A general work : From Gagarin to Thomas Pesquet. The deal is in spaceEric Bottlaender and Pierre-François Mouriaux, Louison Editions, 2017

– A story : Place first. The first Frenchman in spaceJean-Loup Chretien, Patrick Baudry and Bernard Chabbert, Plon, Paris, 1982

A meeting between Daniel Metzlé and Philippe Varnoteaux, by telephone on 20 June 2022

A video of Cnes justified A portrait of … Jean-Loup Chretienby Guy Beauché, Scientifilms, 2008.

Philippe Varnoteaux is a doctor of history, specialist in the beginnings of space research in France and author of several reference works

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