Sophie Adenot, the new French astronaut: behind the scenes of a consecration

The gesture says a lot. For her first public appearance this Tuesday, November 23, Sophie Adenot first took her place on the stage like her 17 new colleagues from the 2022 selection of astronauts from the European Space Agency (ESA), enjoying her last seconds of anonymity. A bit of hubbub, a hint of suspense – five of them officially become “career astronauts”, when the other twelve join the benches of the reserve.

We see her smiling with a slightly forced grin. But it is already different: everyone has put on a black jacket stamped with the ESA logo, carefully closed, with a white shirt as if to better bring out their faces under the powerful rays of the super-powerful spotlights of the ephemeral Grand Palais des Invalides where the ESA Ministerial Conference. While some have their hands wisely crossed or hidden behind their backs, Sophie Adenot has placed them firmly on the hips, jacket open. As with a certain impatience to fight it out.

The young pilot hides nothing of her ambition to enlist her status as an astronaut. When her name is revealed, the first, here she is advancing on the podium with an apparent relaxation. Three or four words of introduction in clear English, an agreed speech on his background and his state of mind: “I’m happy to be here after all the work done.” Work ? The young woman, aged just 40, has just gone through an intense twelve months of a process which saw the European Agency go through nearly 22,500 applications, including 8,000 French. Last June, only 400 were selected to go to Cologne (Germany) to the astronaut training center. There they passed the final tests, first psychological and then medical. Thomas Pesquet, who is an eldest or big brother, participated in this selection and sums up: “Sophie was chosen for her iron health, unrivaled skills, a hellish CV and above all exceptional mental abilities.”

First examination in full light in front of the cameras and microphones, Sophie Adenot reveals herself a little. The vocation ? “When I was a child my little sister often asked me why I only had one poster in my room.” Models ? She quotes Marie Curie and of course Claudie Haigneré, the first French astronaut who, nearly twenty-five years ago, made her first flight in orbit. The questions fuse and the ministers present on the platform seek to place their little word. Bruno Le Maire, in charge of the Economy, Finance and Industrial and Digital Sovereignty, interrupts him to praise his “out of the ordinary” personality and recall that France is the leading contributor to Europe in space; Sylvie Retailleau, the Minister of Research and Higher Education, gears up to say how much the Burgundian will embody “an example for our young people.”

On that, no worries. Like Pesquet in her time (her selection dates back to 2008), Sophie Adenot will indeed also give rise to vocations, especially among young women and in scientific careers: “I am an engineer” soberly tells of the one who went through one of the best training, the National School of Aeronautics and Space (Isae Supaero), before joining Airbus where she specialized in helicopters. There, she designs them but, always motivated by a “desire to go further”, she joins the Air Force to pilot them. Her career began at 23 and she says she “has accumulated more than 3,000 flight hours.” What she details less are her missions in Afghanistan at the controls of a Cancale, in particular to come to the aid of wounded soldiers in theaters of operations.

On the strength of this experience, the Air Force made her the first French woman helicopter test pilot on the base of the Directorate General of Armament (DGA) in Cazaux in Gironde, where she had been officiating since 2019. Her “Audacity” and her “curiosity”, qualities she claims, make her regularly take part in some extreme sports such as parachuting (patent), skiing or even scuba diving (license). On this, she will probably have to put the kibosh. “I now know that there are a lot of expectations on my shoulders and that everything is to be built. It’s a new job that is offered to me.” Thomas Pesquet in ambush summarizes: “A good astronaut must adapt to many situations for which he is not prepared. This official presentation and this passage in front of the media is a difficult one. It is a first step. Now he will have to be patient.” Sophie Adenot still has her arms on her hips, ready to start her new career. She begins her training next April.

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