Haigneré, Claudie Andre–Deshays

views updated

Claudie Andre–Deshays Haigneré

Claudie Haigneré (born 1957) is the first French woman to work as an astronaut as well as the first European woman to visit the International Space Station. In 2002, France named Haigneré minister of research and new technologies. As such, she set out to revive her country's sagging research efforts and also help chart a space-exploration strategy among European countries.

Haigneré was born Claudie Andre-Deshays in Le Creusot, in the Burgundy region of France. While vacationing with her family on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea in 1969, the 12–year–old witnessed United States astronaut Neil Armstrong's unprecedented step onto the lunar surface. "I looked at the image on the TV screen and then at the moon in the sky," Haigneré recalled, as quoted by Michael Balter in Science magazine. "Something inaccessible, that had been just a dream, suddenly became a reality." In an interview on the European Space Agency Website, Haigneré added: "A door was open. I didn't immediately imagine that it was open for me, but the lunar landing gave me a taste for space. I read a lot about the conquest of space, watched every documentary. But I chose to become a doctor—and I was working as a medical professional when my dream became possible."

Obtained Medical Degree

Haigneré attended medical school and graduated from the Faculté deMédecine and Faculté des Sciences. She also earned specialty-study certificates in biology and sports medicine, aviation and space medicine, and rheumatology. In 1986 Haigneré obtained a diploma in biomechanics and physiology of movement, and made her doctoral thesis in neuroscience in 1992.

In 1985, France's space center, the Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales (CNES) sought to boost its astronaut ranks. Haigneré was the only woman among seven candidates chosen from more than 1,000 applicants. "I realized that my dream could be a reality, too," she said in her European Space Agency Website interview. "This was the door, and it was open. After that there was a long selection process; but I had a feeling I would make it all the way."

West Germany and other European countries also expanded their astronaut base and began to include women. According to Haigneré's husband, astronaut Jean-Pierre Haigneré, whom Claudie married in 2001, while "There is a significant amount of data and information available from the U.S. on its NASA shuttle pilot/training operations, . . . the European situation was significantly different." As Jean-Pierre Haigneré added in Aviation Week & Space Technology, "The U.S. began its shuttle program with all of the experience gained from previous manned spaceflights, while in Europe our experience has been limited primarily to participation in a few shuttle missions or with the Soviets."

During her 11 years on the ground as a scientist, Haigneré worked at Cochin Hospital as a rheumatologist and sports trauma specialist, as well as at the neurosensory physiology lab at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique. She performed research in human physiology related to flights to the space station Mir, which the former Soviet Union launched in 1986. In the 1990s, Haigneré was responsible for French and international space physiology and medicine programs in the CNES life-sciences division, and coordinated such experiments for Russia's Antarès mission in 1992. While acknowledging that astronauts get antsy about their first spaceflight, as well as subsequent ones, Haigneré, noted in her European Space Agency interview, "As astronauts, our professional career is certainly marked by space flights, but in between flights we have a rich professional life, whether as engineers, scientists, experts in the development of ESA technical projects, or just as teachers. So we don't just hang around idly between flights."

Laying the groundwork for her first flight, Haigneré participated in parabolic flight campaigns aboard the Zero-G Caravelle. She was named backup cosmonaut to her future husband for the Altair mission in 1993. During this Franco-Russian mission, she oversaw the monitoring of biomedical experiments from her base in Kaliningrad, Russia, near Moscow. She also coordinated the scientific program of the Franco-Russian Cassiopée mission as well as for French experiments aboard the European Space Agency's 1994 Euromir mission.

Trained for First Flight

In December of 1994, Haigneré was assigned to the Cassiopée mission as a research cosmonaut. She commenced her training outside Moscow about 18 months in advance for a flight to the Mir space station with two Russian cosmonauts aboard the Soyuz spacecraft. Her "picture was splashed all over the front pages of Paris newspapers, and French television broadcast the launch live, showing a smiling [Haigneré] . . . strapped in the cockpit with a small teddy bear dangling in front of the control panel," the Orlando Sentinel reported, quoting wire-service reports. "I can't wait to see if you really do feel like a bird," Haigneré told Le Figaro, as quoted in the Orlando Sentinel.

On August 17, 1996, aboard the Soyuz at the Baukonur space station in Kazakhstan with Cosmonauts Aleksandr Y. Kaleri and Valeri G. Korzun, Haigneré said she was too busy preparing for her flight to feel afraid. "Then came the countdown," she told Balter in Science. "5, 4, 3, 2, 1, lift-off! At that moment, I had a feeling of total exaltation and liberation." According to Balter, "Haigneré was instantly rocketed into stardom as one of France's most exalted celebrities."

The twice-delayed Cassiopée mission lasted from August 17 to September 2, 1996, during which time Haigneré performed experiments in physiology and developmental biology, technology, and fluid physics that had been prepared by about 40 French companies. All the while, she took steps to spare herself and colleagues the drudgery of spacecraft food. Haigneré, wrote the London Times, "turned her trip to the Mir space station into an orbiting commercial for French cuisine, by taking with her spacepacked portions of calamars a l'amoricaine, espadon basquaise and a plastic bottle of Gewurztraminer 1994 grand cru." She climbed out of her capsule with two other cosmonauts, Yuri Onufrienko and Yuriy Usachyov, upon landing at Tselinograd, Kazakhstan, and said of her experience, as quoted by the Agence France-Presse: "It was beautiful, wonderful, everything went well. I think we worked hard." Haigneré became the fourth French person in space after Jean-Loup Chretien, Michel Tognini, and her future husband.

In July of 1999, Haigneré became the first woman to qualify as a Soyuz return commander, enabling her to command a three-person capsule upon its return. That year she also joined the European Astronaut Corps, and has since taken part in its development medical projects. "As for the physiology, short-duration flights have shown no major differences between the sexes," she said in her European Space Agency Website interview, discussing similarities and differences between men and women in space. "On the psychological level, though, there have been a number of studies on human behavior in circumstances of isolation and confined living space. The evidence clearly shows that mixed crews perform best—in organizing their work, in decision-making, in conflict management and in their contacts with 'ground control.' "

Follow-up to Soyuz Mission

Months later Haigneré became the first female European astronaut in a "taxi flight" to the International Space Station. Research conducted during the eight-day Andromède mission included such biological experiments as the development in embryos in animals under zero-gravity conditions. Haigneré flew with cosmonauts Viktor Afanasyev and Konstantin Kozeyev to the station, where they left a new Soyuz spacecraft and flew back in the old one, a change necessary every six months. "I would have liked to have more time to live among the crew and to be able to look at the Earth through the porthole," she said upon returning, as quoted on the BBC News Website.

Regarding the 100 million young European women who watched her flight with awe, Haigneré told the European Space Agency interviewer: "I am confident that the new generation will be in better shape to choose its own future without any constraints of inequality. It's certainly satisfying to do exactly what you want—but the price for it must not come too high." She added: "My own daughter Carla—she is three and a half years old —finds nothing strange in her mother's occupation. But then she spends a lot of time in a Russian kindergarten with other cosmonaut kids. In any case, if you ask her right now what she wants to be in the future, she'll tell you: "I want to stay a little girl.' "

Traded Space for Politics

In June of 2002, Haigneré's career took a different path, when the conservative government of French President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin named Haigneré minister of research and new technologies. Her biggest challenge was to boost the space program and the importance of France's presence in space while the government was tackling serious budgetary constraints. "As science chief, she has already had to make her first emergency maneuver: steering Raffarin away from slashing France's research and development budget to help deliver on a promised tax cut," Balter explained in Science. Still, Haigneré's colleagues in the space industry rejoiced at her appointment. "We're delighted. It's a good way to lose an astronaut," European Space Agency representative Franco Bonacina said, as quoted on the BBC News Online.

Surprised at the appointment, Haigneré views her new position as apolitical. "For me, science is not something left-wing or right-wing," she told Balter. "We are talking about a shared national goal and about the construction of European research." Haigneré, however, has been outspoken about the so-called "brain drain" in France, and urged her country to make research careers more attractive. She has also pushed for pan-European pooling of financial resources, noting that neighboring countries have had budgets as tight as France's. In November of 2004, 15 European Union countries formed the Council of Ministers dedicated to Space with the goal of preparing a joint program by the end of 2005. "This is a political momentum," Haigneré said, as quoted in European Voice. "Despite lower budgets, Europe has an independent access to space, has its own scientific missions and telecom and weather forecast satellites."

The former astronaut has also helped France maintain its science and technology activity in the United States, amid otherwise strained relations between the countries over U.S. military involvement in Iraq and strong French opposition to it. "It is very symbolic for me to be present here as a representative of the French government in this difficult period," she said during a 2003 visit to Boston, Massachusetts, where she met with Massachusetts Institute of Technology president Charles Vest, toured local laboratories, and addressed French students and scientists based in the United States.

An Impressive Legacy

In realizing her childhood dream of space flight, Haigneré overcame long odds and, in the process, became a female pioneer. As a government official, she was able to further inspire women to pursue space careers and governments to earmark sufficient funds for space exploration and research. "Men and women are different but complementary," she noted in her European Space Agency interview. "We must let them live and work together in their own ways, without trying to make them behave identically. When we explore the planets, it will be a huge step forward for the entire human race. And the human race has two sexes."

Haigneré has received several special honors throughout her career, including being named a chevalier in both the French Légion d'Honneur and the Ordre National du Mérite. In addition, Russia awarded her a medal for personal valor. Among her personal interests are painting, sculpture, reading, golf, and gymnastics.


Agence France-Presse, September 2, 1996.

Aviation Week & Space Technology, October 26, 1987.

Boston Globe, April 28, 2003.

European Voice, November 18, 2004.

Orlando Sentinel, August 18, 1996.

Science, August 16, 2002.

Times (London, England), April 17, 1999.


"An Interview with Claudie Haigneré," European Space Agency Website, http://www.esa.int/export/esaHS/ESA2CU0VMOC–astronauts–2.html (October 16, 2001).

"Claudie Haigneré," Embassy of France Website, http://www.ambafrance-us.org/atoz/bio/bio–haignere.asp (November 23, 2004).

"French Astronaut Takes Political Leap," BBC News Onlinehttp://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/2051747.stm (June 18, 2002).

"Soyuz Spacecraft Lands Safely," BBC News Website,http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/1629629.stm (October 31, 2002).

About this article

Haigneré, Claudie Andre–Deshays

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article