One of the happiest months of my life was when I rented an apartment in the 20th arrondissement of Paris, so that I could do some work in the archives of the Musee de l'Air et de l'Espace at Le Bourget. Every morning I'd go down to the boulangerie on the ground floor of my apartment building for fresh pain and delight in the simple pleasure of perfect bread and butter. I may not have spent quite as much time in the archives as I intended, but what the hell.
Here are a few reasons to love French aerospace.
1. Asterix 1
|Asterix 1. Image source: unknown.|
When France launched Asterix 1 on a Diamant rocket from Algeria in 1965, it became the third nation in space. Asterix 1 is named for the plucky Gallic bande dessinee character who successfully holds the Roman invaders at bay against all the odds. His namesake, the sub-conical striped-and-antennaed satellite, is quite simply super-cute, and one of my all-time favourites.
|Image source: author.|
2. Alexandre Ananoff
While working in the archives, I became aware of an influential French space visionary. The name Alexandre Ananoff (1910 - 1992) came up over and over again. He wrote about the mechanics of spaceflight, the kinds of spaceships we might see in the future, and social aspects of space exploration. This article, by Pierre-Francois Mouriaux and Philippe Varnoteaux, appraises his contribution to French space exploration. They say:
A. Ananoff was a real ambassador for astronautics and a pioneer in space education for the general public—probably the first one in France.
In addition, he advised Herge about aspects of spaceflight for the two Tintin volumes where the boy adventurer goes to the Moon.
3. Tintin walks on the Moon
|Image source: Tintin.com|
|Image source: Guyane Evasion|
5. Cool space words
One day, as my plane descended into Adelaide airport, I noticed a plane without wings lying in the grass near the runway. Oh, I thought, it looks like a rocket. Then I realised. Fusee - the French word for rocket - is the same root as fuselage, commonly used to describe the body of a plane. D'oh.
The cool wordage doesn't stop there, though. My friend Alexandre Ananoff has a word for spaceship: Astronef. This, I think, it the same root as navy, and the French word for space shuttle is navette.
Scaphandre is space suit, also used for diving suit. To me, it has a Homeric ring. Or it could be a character in Aeon Flux.
French has a word for landing and taking off FOR EACH PLANET AND MOON. This is beyond cool, a new galactic level of cool. You've possibly heard the terrestrial version of these words if you've flown a French airline - aterrissage. Terre is Earth, and aterrissage is landing on the Earth. Alunissage is landing on the Moon, and amarsissage is landing on Mars. In a future multi-planet solar system economy, the precision of these terms could be very useful.
6. Musee de l'Air et de l'Espace, Paris
|Just check out these babies. Image source: Capcom Espace|
7. Le Petit Prince
Continuing the entanglement of air and space, this classic work of children's literature was published in 1943 and is still a favourite with kids across the world. It's really a moral tale, but it has the enchanting conceit of tiny planets or asteroids which grow roses. It was illustrated by the author, Antoine de Saint-Exupery.
The little prince says:
I love listening to stars at night. It sounds like a hundred million bells.