Originally from Orleans, Jean-Baptiste Desbois joined Toulouse in May 2011, taking the reins of Cité de l’Espace. Inaugurated in 1997, the site of scientific culture has made it possible for young and old to travel beyond the Earth’s surface. And with good reason, in 25 years, 7 million visitors have visited the various exhibitions and events offered by the Cité de l’Espace. independent opinion asked Jean-Baptiste Desbois, the director general Cities in space and the flight of pioneerswhich has been working for more than 10 years to make spatial knowledge and knowledge accessible to the general public
Nantes to the Pink City
Before settling in Toulouse, Jean-Baptiste Desbois worked in Nantes as assistant to the City des Congres. “I participated in its inauguration in 1992. Thanks to this position, I gained experience in the management of large cultural facilities”, believes the native of Orleans. Jean-Baptiste Desbois subsequently took over the general management of a cultural tourism structure in Nantes. “I managed Castle of the Duke of Brittany, which houses a large museum of the region’s history. I also took care of the “Les Machines de Lille” site, which is a cousin of the Halle de la Machine in Montaudran.
In 2010, the Space City Looking for a successor to Bernard Burrell, general manager of the site between 1997 and 2010. After more than 30 years at Nantes, Jean-Baptiste quickly quit and joined the Pink City. “I have a scientific appetite. I often say that I am a childApollo 11, I was 10 years old when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon”, remembers Jean-Baptiste Desbois with nostalgia before continuing: “Astronomy also fascinated me, this discipline is a way to think about the sky, to understand and share it with family. and with friends. At the same time, I graduated from a business and management school. I wanted to share knowledge and wisdom with the general public, so working at Cité de l’Espace was the right compromise”, says the General Manager.
Space, a unified domain
“Space is both fascinating and disturbing,” summarizes the Orleans native. And with good reason, many of the events organized within the Cité de l’espace demonstrate enthusiasm for the discipline. The latest, on Tuesday July 12, 2022, is when the site unveiled the first images from the James Webb Space Telescope Live. “When we see this collision of galaxies, Stefan’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’s about geopolitics, history, tradition, meditation, beauty, even metaphysics, when you look at James Webb’s pictures for example. I would like to say that it is a human adventure, because it opens new frontiers for humanity”, adds Jean-Baptiste Desbois.
To appreciate the vastness of the sky, you don’t need to be an astrophysicist to ask yourself the right questions about the plethora of cosmic curiosities: Why does one star shine brighter than another? What is a constellation, are they really close or is it a human construct? The questions are endless. Starting from this curiosity, the Cité de l’Espace and its intermediaries provide some answers that sometimes lead to other questions. “Visitors will then subscribe to a scientific journal, develop their critical thinking and follow what is called the scientific method”.
In addition, current events have revived the general public’s appetite for astronomy: the mission of Thomas Pesquet, the possible return of humanity to the moon, the exploration of Mars… Given this dense news, the Cité de l’Space is working to make this unified area more fun and accessible.
An ascent interrupted by Covid-19
Like all French cultural centers, the Cité de l’espace has suffered the full brunt of the Covid-19 pandemic: “In the two years 2020-2021, we have nine months of incremental closure between March and May 2020 followed by November 2020 and May 2021.” After quickly shutting down the site, Jean-Baptiste Desbois wanted to preserve the link to all sitesEducational team of the Cité de l’espace. “Even during the closing period, we continued our educational activities to share science and astronomy with the public. We created animations on the Internet, we visited schools when they could no longer come to us. With the media, we also set up. Despite our closure Communications activities for major space events”, proudly lists the Orleans native. During Covid-19, Cité de l’espace therefore thought differently about its activities while maintaining links with the public.
The second point was to follow the investment Continue project development, despite the health crisis. “We were lucky to have financial reserves that allowed us to move forward,” the general manager underlines. A strategy that paid off, because, despite the forced closure in 2020, the re-opening of the site has been very positive, especially thanks to the link maintained with the public during the confinement. “What was lost financially in 2020 was recovered in 2021, so we are satisfied with that,” said Jean-Baptiste Desbois.
For the summer of 2022, the Center of Scientific Culture wants to be confident, especially since the reservation rates in Haut-Garonne and Occitanie look good according to the first trends in the tourism structure.
Over the years, more than 60% of the population comes from outside Occitanie. Tourism levels are therefore significant in summer. We know that the indicators for accommodation, lodges and campsites in Occitania this summer are good or very good. At the same time, our reservation is good at internet ticket office. We are rather optimistic about the summer crowds at Cité de l’Espace and Envol des Pionniers”, confides the director.
Cité de l’Espace, an international player
In 25 years, the Space City Established itself in France as a reference in popularizing science, but also in the world. And for good reason, since its inception, several events related to space news have managed to attract many curious people and space lovers. Among the many events, the director general of the Cité de l’Espace singled out three.
On August 6, 2012, Curiosity’s arrival on Mars was the first major space news event we had for the general public. On August 6 at 7 am we welcomed 2500 people. We thought something was up,” recalls the sixty-something.
He continued: “When we first created Nocturnes after the retirement of my predecessor Bernard Burrell, we realized 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 City de l’Space for Jean-Baptiste Desbois. “We had a great day around Thomas Pesquet returning from a mission. We welcomed 8,000 people to the Cité de l’Espace. A week later, the World Astronaut Congress brought together 100 astronauts, cosmonauts and tyconauts in the Cité de Toulouse area.”
Such are the events that legitimize Toulouse, viz World capital of aeronautics. This is 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 communication equipment for the general public. “A quarter of European space is in the Toulouse economic zone and 60% of French space is in the Toulouse region. That’s huge. Thus, Toulouse is truly the world capital of aeronautics and European Space Capital“, underlined the director.
Lots of projects
On June 25, 2022, The Cité de l’Espace celebrates its 25th anniversary. After a quarter of a century of existence, the Cité de l’Espace is “doing well”, as evidenced by its record attendance. “Between 2017 and 2019, we crossed the 400,000 visitor milestone. This represents over 50% attendance compared to 2006-2011 when we were around 270,000 visitors. The year 2006 is important for us as it marks the opening of Australia.”
As a reminder, Australia is equipped with, among other things, a 280-seat planetarium with a screen dome with a diameter of 20 meters, a 300-seat large format cinema with a giant screen. A building that represents a “major extension”. Space City when it is opened.
Thus the establishment is perpetually renewing itself. The next big project,”MonExplorer“, which will put the public at the heart of future manned lunar missions. Then they will pass through a centrifuge that will be at the heart of the device, an acceleration of 2 to 2.5 g to be as close to physical reality as possible”, 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.
its offerspace news are also constantly reviewed. “Due to the success of the concept, we have added Tuesday Nocturnes. We also have new workshops, such as those focused on the selection of astronauts. Finally, we are going to establish a visiting companion from the beginning. Next school year it is an application to support visitors. We expect visitors Constantly moving forward to fulfill and make space news more interesting.” Enough to ensure a more promising future for the Cité de l’espace.
>> Read more: Toulouse: Day to celebrate 25th anniversary of City de l’Espace