an astronaut talks about life in space

an astronaut talks about life in space
an astronaut talks about life in space
Published on 05/24/2024 at 6:44 p.m.

Written by Alicia Girardeau

Sophie Adenot will become the second French woman to travel into space, thirty years after Claudie Haigneré. She will fly to the International Space Station (ISS) in 2026. Training, life in weightlessness and disrupted transit… astronaut and honorary president of Mérignac-Novespace, Jean-François Clervoy, tells us what awaits him .

A ticket to space. Sophie Adenot, former test pilot in Gironde, was selected by the European Space Agency to join the crew which will fly to the ISS in 2026. Thirty years after Claudie Haigneré, she will therefore be the second French woman to travel into space, alongside Raphaël Liégeois. A “evidence” for Jean-François Clervoy. The astronaut and president of Mérignac-Novespace has also rubbed shoulders with the stars three times and participated in the ESA selection processes in 2009. He looks back, sometimes with nostalgia, on the selection tests and his journey .

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Jean-François Clervoy flew twice aboard the space shuttle Atlantis then a third time aboard Discovery and has a total of 675 hours in space.

© VALENTINE CHAPUIS / MAXPPP

Astronaut Sophie Adenot will therefore be the second French woman to join the ISS in 2026…

Jean-François Clervoy: “Deep down, I expected it, I have known her since she was a candidate. I am very happy for her, she has an exceptional personality and background. She has extensive technical and operational experience , like Thomas Pesquet We need these profiles.

Exactly, what profiles are sought for this type of mission?

We are not looking for superhumans or superheroes, but multi-qualified people, who are made for that. Sophie, for example, said since she was little that she wanted to become an astronaut. During selection tests, we look to see passion. We are also looking for people who know how to work in a multicultural team, who are not claustrophobic, who are emotionally stable and who like to challenge themselves. These may be people who have jobs requiring mastery, or who are used to being in extreme environments, such as divers, pilots or submariners. Above all, we look for profiles that are directly linked to the nature of the job, as in all professions.

What do the selection tests consist of to be able to join the ISS?

The selections are made in six stages. First a motivation file where 10% of the candidates are kept. Then a psychological stage with personality tests in the form of multiple choice questions with very simple questions such as “when I get up, am I in a good mood?”. There is no better personality than others, but we want people who answer truth. Then psychotechnical tests to assess the brain’s ability to think, and psychomotor tests in the form of video games.

The candidates then take a collective test in small groups where they must face a crisis situation and respond to it together. This time, we assess their ability to listen to each other, make themselves heard and reason. The selected candidates then undergo a fairly complete medical examination, the only truly physical test of the selection. Around forty of them are interviewed by the general director and around ten are declared suitable for the job. It is then up to the general director to distribute the candidates according to whether they become reservists or active.

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Sophie Adenot graduated as an astronaut only a month ago.

© CHRISTOPHER NEUNDORF / EPA

Candidates train for a year to learn what being an astronaut is, how a spacecraft works, and what to expect on short or long flights. At the end of this training, you can be declared eligible for flight, as Sophie was. The two years before leaving for the ISS, she will learn how the station works, how to go out into space, do maintenance, manage the supply ships. 70% of the time, it involves training themselves to be aware of the scientific material that will be given to them.

What exactly is the job of an astronaut?

He’s a machine operator. He is constantly from morning to evening flipping switches, operating ships, robots, spacesuits. As part of the ISS, it uses scientific equipment for research teams.

This seems particularly difficult…

From an intellectual and technical point of view, they will enjoy it. Every day, they go to training with bananas in their ears. They are passionate, they will never say that it is difficult even when you are in the simulator and a complex failure is simulated with complicated scenarios.

For someone like Sophie who is a test pilot, it’s her daily hobby.

Jean-François Clervoy

Astronaut

What is physically difficult is training for spacewalks. When I was responsible for sorties in my second flight, I did training and the diving suit was tiring to handle. It’s tiring, but you go to training for concrete tasks that you will have to do in space, it’s enjoyable.

Has the training evolved since your three flights in 1985 and 1992?

From a technical and operational point of view, it’s still the same spirit. But today the program is very international and you are forced to work a lot on weekends in Japan, Canada and Europe. Astronauts must make more sacrifices of their family privacy than in my time, because that is the nature of the ISS program.

How do we prepare for such sacrifices?

They know it in advance, when they are candidates, they already know what their professional life will be like. But unlike my time, now they have access to high-speed internet. They can video call their loved ones whenever they want. Which makes the distance less restrictive, the astronaut has a link which can be daily with his family, because the pace of work is close to that on Earth.

Is it possible to not be prepared enough?

No. There is no uncertainty. We often feel like we’re overtrained. On D-day, takeoff, we are calm, very excited, aware of the danger, and there is a certain fear of dying and an awareness of the risk. But we think it’s normal to do that on that day, because we know that we’ve been preparing for it for months.

Do you remember your first takeoff?

Everything happened exactly as I had imagined it in my head. The only thing that surprises is the sight of the earth, it’s wow, it’s a huge wow and tears in the eyes. Also, I didn’t expect the shuttle’s attitude change motors to be so loud.

And as for life in weightlessness, any surprises?

Pee/poop (laughs). This is a subject on which the Americans told us nothing. Transit is disrupted and it is difficult to relieve ourselves. It takes a while for the body to relearn and it’s frustrating. Otherwise, we get used to weightlessness very quickly and it takes longer to get used to weightlessness on earth again than in space.

Are women and men trained the same way?

Men and women are treated equally. The only difference is the urination funnel which is not the same. Women also have the option of stopping their periods.

Thomas Pesquet communicates a lot on social networks, he has become an example for the youngest…

There were no French people on the ISS for around ten years, so many young people only knew Thomas Pesquet and it was important to raise awareness of the profession. Sophie will also have a very important role in raising awareness of ESA and showing that it is a profession which is as much for women as for men.

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French astronaut Thomas Pesquet spent 200 days aboard the International Space Station.

© Zuma Press – MaxPPP

How do you view your past missions?

I completed three space shuttle missions and was a senior advisor to astronauts on the European ISS supply ships. I flew on the shuttle and the MIR station, and I was the youngest astronaut selected at the time.

I have completed three space flights in five years. The Space Shuttle, with its incredible capabilities and advanced technologies, remains for me an iconic vessel in the history of space exploration, even if we have returned to capsules for safety reasons. I don’t regret anything from this period.

I would have liked to do a long-duration flight like Thomas and Sophie, who have and will spend around 200 days in space. Living and working in space for six months is a unique experience.

Jean-François Clarvoy

astronaut

Twenty-six years after the first crew in orbit, the diversity of nationalities involved in this program is impressive. I look forward to flights to the moon and the arrival of private space stations. I always hope to be useful and inspire future generations. We are living in a fantastic new era with the ISS and long-duration flights, and we will soon return to the moon and perhaps even send crews to Mars, which will fascinate younger generations.

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