She could have been the first French woman in space

Beginning with Jacques Blamont

Anny-Chantal Levasseur-Regourd was a world-renowned specialist in the physics of comets, asteroids and the interplanetary medium. Professor Emeritus of the Atmospheres Observations Spatiales Laboratory (Latmos) / Sorbonne University (Paris VI Pierre-et-Marie-Curie), she was still extremely active at the time of her disappearance.

His brilliant career began with Professor Jacques Blamont, whowelcomed in her laboratory, the Aeronomy Service (SA) of the CNRS in Verrières-le-Buisson (Essonne), after she had trained at the École Normale Supérieure de l’Enseignement Technique (ancestor of the École Normale Supérieure de Paris-Saclay), got then its aggregation of mathematics.

Jacques Blamont entrusted him with the analysis of data obtained on board the D2A satellite (Tournesol), launched in April 1971 to study zodiacal lights in particular. In 1976, the young woman obtained what was then called a state doctorate in physical sciences, which has since become authorization to direct research (HDR).

She continued her research at SA until 2009, then at Latmos, becoming a teacher at Paris VI in 1985.

The Spacelab Committee

In 1977, Anny-Chantal Levasseur-Regourd was selected by CNES as an astronaut candidate within the framework of ESA’s Spacelab laboratory program, intended to fly with the American Space Shuttle. But no Frenchman had finally been selected – not even a woman – and it was not until the 1990s that European women made trips around the Earth: the British Helen Sharman in 1991 during the Juno mission, then the French Claudie Haigneré (André- Deshays, at time) during the Cassiopée mission.

This episode has often been presented as painful for Anny-Chantal Levasseur-Regourd. But this one did not seem to retain any particular resentment, 45 years later, when she was asked to reread the corresponding chapter in the collective work Sixty space stories, published last June by Ginkgo. Rather, she remembered another era and other customs, when the fact of being a woman in this male environment was anything but obvious, and even sometimes shocking, like the treatment she sometimes received in the press at the time. She was also convinced that the French applications had been lost in advance and met criteria not necessarily requested by the ESA…

The taste of sharing

Anny-Chantal Levasseur-Regourd was one of the personalities asked to read some of the articles in Espace d’Air & Cosmos. His feedback was always enthusiastic and enriching through long phone calls (not easy to schedule in the middle of his minister’s diary), or flood emails that were not devoid of humor.

This taste for sharing, a very great accessibility and an unrestrained dynamism thus characterized the teacher, as one of her astronomer students in Master 2 at the time at the Paris Observatory, Benjamin Sebag, remembers: “That is what she was to many people, she was even a mentor to me for a moment, since she took all the good will with her when she did something. »

The donation for popularization

As Anny-Chantal Levasseur-Regourd recalled in a July 2021 tribute to journalist Albert Ducocq, co-founder ofAir & Cosmosit was the latter who first suggested that he should write a popular science book, The atmosphere and its phenomenapublished in 1980 and awarded two years later.

The researcher had since contributed to other editorial projects for the general public, e.g Comets and asteroids (with Philippe de la Cotardière, Points, 1997), and Comet exploration, from antiquity to Rosetta (with Janet Borg, New World, 2018).

In July 2019, in the special issue ofAir & Cosmos dedicated to the fiftieth anniversary of the first steps on the Moon, it especially reminded that our satellite is still an unknown world.

A final testimony

Last June, during a final exchange with us, Anny-Chantal Levasseur-Regourd remembered the parabolic flights in Cnes, “where I have often participated, for example from Mérignac, to analyze the microgravity behavior of cometary and interplanetary dust (what a lovely feeling, but also exceptionally moments of anxiety), and that of the Vega 1 and 2 missions (ie, just as I had the privilege of being the Principal Investigator (PI) of an experiment aboard Giotto (HOPE for the Halley Optical Probe Experiment) which had enabled us to highlight, among other things, the complexity of the hair comets.”

many tributes

“ACLR” seemed tireless and eternal. The writing ofAir & Cosmos joins the pain of his family and loved ones and sends them his sincere condolences.

This article adds to the many tributes and articles that have already been published since the beginning of August, on the site of the forever missed, on the website of the Société Astronomique de France, or on the website of Figaro.

See also the beautiful portrait painted by Dominique Leglu in Release in February 1997.

A tribute to the choir will be organized online on Friday, September 16 at 17.00 on the Ideas In Science channel in the presence of many personalities who have worked with Anny-Chantal Levasseur-Regourd.

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