“It was an unforgettable sight,” recalls passionately Jean-Loop Creatine, forty years after his flight from Baikonur’s Cosmodrome (Kazakhstan), which took him to the Salute 7 space station, the ancestor of the Mir station. Days in orbit since June 24, 1982.
“The end of a dream … and a lot of excitement”
Its mission was called “PVH” (“First Human Flight”). A guest of the permanent crew, Jean-Loop Critin was the first foreign visitor to come from a communist country, and the first French astronaut. Quite a symbol … but on the day of takeoff his head was elsewhere: “You don’t think about it. My state of mind was the test of endurance, the end result of a dream… and a lot of excitement, ”says the former astronaut, now 84 years old.
He remembers this “shock moment” when the Soyuz rocket was launched, the board on which he settled with Alexander Ivanchenkov and Vladimir Janibekov. “After two years of training, two weeks of quarantine … everything went so fast! In less than ten minutes, I found myself in orbit, I discovered the attraction of weightlessness. Through the porthole, I saw the world … it was an unforgettable sight, ”he says.
Yuri Gagarin, this pioneer
A fighter pilot, he was then 44 years old. As a child, Morlix Airfield (Finister), with whom he lived, gave him a “fascination with the third dimension.” Tintin’s albums “Objective Lune” and “On a March Sur La Lune” anchor this passion to the sky. And when Yuri Gagarin became the first man to fly into space (1961), a student at the Salon-de-Provence Aeronautical School set himself the ambition to become an astronaut.
But the Air Force did not hold him in his election. “At 41, I was very old.” He then presented himself as an open candidate, went through various stages, and was “pleasantly surprised” to be finally selected by CNES (National Center for Space Studies) to prepare for the Franco-Soviet mission as Patrick Boudri studied.
“PVH” marks the end of a French desire to cooperate with the USSR, led by de Gaulle, who was the first Western head of state to visit Baikonur in 1966 in the wake of the relaxation, Lionel Suchet explained, director-general of the French space agency. But when Jean-Loup Chrétien began his training at Star City near Moscow, East-West relations heated up again with the war in Afghanistan: “As soon as we arrived, the French ambassador told us + you’re ready to go again.”
“It was a complicated time. From the USSR side, everything was secret. Jean-Loop and Patrick were suffering from it, they were trained in a “tight” way without contacting their back base in France, “underlined Lionel Suchet. There was no right to give. On the contrary, those who had the right to talk to us knew nothing about it … Everything was very slow, where we started from scratch on a manned flight. “
Three flights, 43 days in space
By establishing close ties with the Russians, including “diplomacy”, the astronaut “played a leading role. We owe him a lot,” Lionel Suchet welcomed.
After its first flight, Jean-Loop Creatine did it again in 1988 aboard the Soyuz TM-7 and then spent 25 days in space. On this occasion, he became the first non-Russian and non-American to make an extraterrestrial journey into space lasting about six hours. Then, in 1997, he boarded the American shuttle Atlantis with Mooring at the Russian orbital station Mir and took part in an American mission where he stayed for four days. He finally became a naturalized American in 1999 and ended his career at NASA.
He will spend 43 days in orbit, paving the way for many more astronauts, including the highly publicized Thomas Pesquet, who have spent more than a year in space.
Ten French in space
Jean-Loup Chrétien (3 flights between 1982 and 1997 for 43 days)
Patrick Boudry (7 day flight in 1985)
Michelle Tognini (2 flights in 1992 and 1999, 18 days)
Jean-Pierre Haigneré (2 flights for 209 days in 1993 and 1999)
Jean-Franোয়াois Clarevoy (3 flights between 1994 and 1999, 28 days)
Jean-Jacques Favier (a 16-day flight in 1996)
Claudie Haigneré (2 flights, for a total of 25 days, in 1996 and 2001)
Leopold Eyeharts (2 flights, in 1998 and 2008, for a total of 68 days)
Philippe Perrin (13 day flight in 2002)
Thomas Pesquet (2 flights, in 2016 and 2021, for a total of 396 days)