Astronaut, taikonaut, cosmonaut or astronaut? These four words refer to an entire person going into space. An astronaut is American, a Chinese taikonaut, a Russian cosmonaut and a European astronaut. The French who have gone to visit space therefore belong to this latter category. They are only ten to have made this trip since the flight of the first of them, just forty years ago, on June 24, 1982.
► Jean-Loup Chretien, the first
Former brigadier general in the air force and fighter pilot, Jean-Loup Chrétien became in 1982 the first Frenchman and the first Western European in space. He participated in the Franco-Soviet PVH mission, a trip to the Salyut 7 space station.
Jean-Loup Chrétien, who also remains the first, apart from Americans and Russians, to have carried out an extra-vehicular exit, carried out three flights in space for a total of 43 days, 11 hours and 19 minutes. His trip, in the midst of the Cold War, paved the way for intense scientific collaboration between the French and the Soviets.
► Patrick Baudry, the understudy
Patrick Baudry doubles as Jean-Loup Chrétien on the PVH mission. He becomes the second French astronaut by participating in an American mission which also takes a member of the Saudi royal family.
He remains one of the few to have the dual experience of American training and Soviet training, which he recounted in an account, Live from space.
► Michel Tognini, Franco-American astronaut
Michel Tognini flew from Baikonur in July 1992 to the Mir space station. He then participated in the American mission STS-93, which put the Chandra space telescope into orbit. Having become head of the European Astronaut Center, he would recruit Thomas Pesquet years later.
► Jean-Pierre Haigneré, from space to cinema
Jean-Pierre Haigneré took part in the Altaïr mission in 1993, which left Baikonur to join Mir. After going there a second time in 1999, he became the one who spent the most time, apart from Russian cosmonauts, in the station.
In 2009, he made an appearance in a film by Riad Sattouf, The Beautiful Kids. Jean-Pierre Haigneré remains the second Frenchman to have spent the most time in space, with 209 days, 12 hours and 25 minutes in total.
► Jean-François Clervoy, an engineer in space
An engineer, Jean-François Clervoy was selected as an astronaut in 1985 by France. In November 1994, he took part in the American Atlas-3 mission, which studied the composition of the Earth’s atmosphere. In 1997, he went to the Mir station and then left again in 1999 for a mission where he repaired the Hubble Space Telescope in 1999.
► Jean-Jacques Favier, physicist astronaut
After obtaining a doctorate in physics and metallurgy, Jean-Jacques Favier made a unique flight of 16 days and 21 hours during the American mission STS-78, aboard the space shuttle Columbia.
► Claudie Haigneré, the first woman in space
Claudie Haigneré is a scientist, physician and doctor of neuroscience. She was also Minister Delegate for Research and Minister Delegate for European Affairs in the governments of Jean-Pierre Raffarin. Its first flight, which took place in 1996, brought it to the Russian Mir orbital station as part of the Franco-Russian Cassiopée mission.
She performs many scientific experiments there. Her husband, Jean-Pierre Haigneré, was the fourth Frenchman to go into space.
► Léopold Eyharts, the return of a general to space
The flight of Léopold Eyharts marks the return of the military among the French astronauts. A fighter pilot, he made his first trip to the Mir station in 1998, during which he conducted medical experiments. He then visited the International Space Station in 2008, to set up the European Columbus laboratory there.
► Philippe Perrin, assembler of the International Space Station
Philippe Perrin, test pilot at Airbus, became the 9th French astronaut in March 2002. During this mission, he carried out three extravehicular outings around the International Space Station.
► Thomas Pesquet, first French commander of the International Space Station
Aeronautical engineer and airline pilot, Thomas Pesquet flew for the first time in 2016 to the International Space Station. A second mission, in October 2021, will even see him take command of the station, a first for a Frenchman.
With 396 days, 11 hours and 34 minutes in space, Thomas Pesquet is the Frenchman who has spent the most time in space and has conducted the most spacewalks.