“Toulouse really embodies the European space capital”

Jean-Baptiste Desbois, who hails from Orléans, joined Toulouse in May 2011 and took over the reins of the Cité de l’Espace. The site of scientific culture, inaugurated in 1997, has enabled young and old to travel beyond the earth’s surface. And with good reason, 7 million visitors in 25 years have visited the various exhibitions and events offered by the Cité de l’Espace. The independent opinion asked Jean-Baptiste Desbois, Director-General of City of Space and the Flight of Pioneerswhich for more than 10 years has worked to make spatial knowledge and knowledge available to the general public.

From Nantes to the pink city

Before settling in Toulouse, Jean-Baptiste Desbois worked in Nantes as an assistant to the Cité des Congrès. “I attended the opening in 1992. Thanks to this position, I gained experience in managing large cultural facilities,” the native Orléans confides. Jean-Baptiste Desbois subsequently took over the general management of a cultural tourism structure in Nantes. “I did Duke of Brittany’s castle, where there is a large museum of the history of the area. I also took care of “Les Machines de Lille”, which is in a way a cousin of the Halle de la machine in Montaudran “.

In 2010, Space City looking for a successor to Bernard Burel, general manager of the site between 1997 and 2010. Jean-Baptiste quickly got the job and joined Pink City after more than 30 years in Nantes. “I have a scientific appetite. I often say I’m a child ofApollo 11“I was 10 years old when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the Moon”, Jean-Baptiste Desbois recalls with nostalgia before continuing: “Astronomy also fascinated me, this discipline is also a way of looking at the sky, to understand and share this with family and friends. At the same time, I graduated from a business and management school. I wanted to share knowledge and knowledge with the general public, so the work at the Cité de l’Espace was the right compromise, “says the general manager.

Space, a unifying domain

“The space is both fascinating and unsettling,” sums up the Orleans native. And with good reason, the many events organized in the Cité de l’espace show the enthusiasm for the discipline. Most recently, Tuesday, July 12, 2022, when the site unveiled the first images of the James Webb Space Telescope live. “When we see this collision of galaxies, Stephan’s Quintet, we realize that it is terribly violent, but it is both fascinating and a source of wonder,” he says.

Space is not just about science and technology, it is also about geopolitics, history, heritage, contemplation, beauty, even metaphysics, when you look at the images of James Webb, for example. I like to say that it is a human adventure because it opens up new frontiers for humanity, ”adds Jean-Baptiste Desbois.

To admire the extent of the sky, you do not have to be an astrophysicist to ask yourself the right questions about the abundance of space curiosities: why does one star sparkle more than another? What is a constellation, are the stars really close or is it a human construction? The questions are endless. Based on this curiosity, the Cité de l’Espace and its mediators provide some answers that sometimes lead to other questions. “Visitors will then subscribe to a scientific journal, will develop their critical thinking and pursue what is called the scientific approach”.

In addition, current events have revived the public’s appetite for astronomy: Thomas Pesquet’s missions, humanity’s possible return to the Moon, the exploration of Mars … In light of this close news, the Cité de l’Espace is working to make this unifying area even more fun and more available.

A climb hampered by Covid-19

Like all French cultural centers, the Cité de l’espace has borne the full burden of the Covid-19 pandemic: “During the two years 2020-2021, we have nine months of cumulative closure between March and May 2020 and then between November 2020 and May 2021. . ” Shortly after the closure of the site, Jean-Baptiste Desbois insisted on staying connected to everyonetraining team from the Cité de l’espace. “Even in the final periods, we continued our educational activity of sharing science and astronomy with the public. We made animations on the Internet, we went to schools when they could no longer come to us. With the media, we have also set up communication operations for major space events. despite our closure “, proudly informs the native of Orléans. Under Covid-19, therefore, the Cité de l’espace thought of its activity differently, while maintaining the connection with the public.

The second point was to pursue investments in order to continue the development of projectsdespite the health crisis. “We were fortunate to have financial reserves that enabled us to move forward,” the general manager emphasizes. A strategy that has borne fruit, because despite the forced closure in 2020, the reopening of the site has been very positive, especially thanks to the connection with the public during the confinement. “What was lost financially in 2020 was recovered in 2021, so we are happy with that,” says Jean-Baptiste Desbois.

By the summer of 2022, the Center for Scientific Culture wants to be confident, especially as reservation prices in Haute-Garonne and Occitanie look good according to the first trends in tourist structures.

During the year, more than 60% of the population come from outside Occitanie. The tourist dimension is therefore important in the summer. We know that the indicators for accommodation, cabins and campsites are good or even very good in Occitania this summer. At the same time, our reservations at the internet ticket office are good. We are quite optimistic about the summer crowds in the Cité de l’Espace and Envol des Pionniers “, the director confides.

Cité de l’Espace, an international player

In 25 years has Space City has established itself in France, but also in the world, as a reference in terms of popularizing science. And with good reason, since its inception, numerous events, related to space news, have been able to attract many curious people and space lovers. Among the many events, the Director-General of the Cité de l’Espace has nominated three.

On August 6, 2012, Curiosity’s arrival on Mars was the first major space news event we made for the general public. We welcomed 2,500 people on August 6 at. 7.00. We thought something was going on, ‘the sixty-something recalls.

He continues: “When we produced the first Nocturnes, after my predecessor, Bernard Burel’s retirement, we noticed that we were bringing something new and powerful to the public. We even expanded the concept.”

Finally, the 2017 World Astronaut Congress was also a highlight in the history of the Cité de l’Espace for Jean-Baptiste Desbois. “We had a fantastic day around Thomas Pesquet, who was returning from a mission. We welcomed 8,000 people to the Cité de l’Espace. A week later, the World Astronaut Congress gathered 100 astronauts, cosmonauts and taikonauts in the Cité of the Toulouse area. . “

Such events that legitimize Toulouse, as the world capital of aviation. This is even one of the reasons for the creation of the Cité de l’Espace. The site was created thanks to industrialists from the Toulouse area, members of the space community, who needed a communication tool for the general public. “A quarter of European space is based in the Toulouse economic area, and 60% of French space is in the Toulouse region. It is colossal. Thus, Toulouse truly embodies the world capital of aviation and European Space Capital“, Emphasizes the director.

Lots of projects

June 25, 2022, that The Cité de l’Espace celebrated its 25th anniversary. After a quarter of a century of existence, the Cité de l’Espace has the “good”, as evidenced by its record-breaking attendance. “Between 2017 and 2019, we passed the milestone of 400,000 visitors. This represents more than 50% of attendance compared to 2006-2011, when we were around 270,000 visitors. The year 2006 is important to us because it marks the opening of Australia. “

As a reminder, Astralia is equipped with, among other things, a 280-seater planetarium with a screen dome 20 meters in diameter, a large-format 300-seater cinema with a giant screen. A building that represented a “major expansion” of Space City when opened.

The establishment thus continues to renew itself forever. Next big project, “MonExplorer“, which will project the public into the heart of future manned lunar missions.” Crews of four people will be briefed and then installed in a capsule. They will then undergo an acceleration of 2 to 2.5 g in a centrifuge, which will be in the heart of the device, to be as close as possible to the physical reality “, explains Jean-Baptiste Desbois. The project will be able to accommodate 2,000 to 2,500 people daily and will open to the public in the summer of 2023.

The offer ofspace news is also regularly audited. “We have added Nocturnes, on Tuesday now, given the success of the concept. We also have new workshops, such as the one that focuses on the selection of astronauts. Finally, we need to create a visiting companion from the beginning of next school year. This is a application to support visitors. We are constantly on the move to meet visitors’ expectations and make space news increasingly attractive. ” Enough to secure an even more promising future for the Cité de l’espace.

>> READ ALSO: Toulouse: the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Cité de l’Espace

Leave a Comment