NEWS

French astronaut talks about view from space

“It looks like a spaceship» was the description of Earth by a man who’d had the opportunity to have an outsider’s view of the planet. In Greece for the exhibition «Education 2004» as a guest of the French Embassy and the French Institute, French astronaut Philippe Perin, a member of the European Space Agency (ESA), spoke to Kathimerini about his three trips with the American space shuttle Endeavor in June 2002. He described the experience, confessing that «as time passes, the images fade in my mind and what remains are the feelings.» How does one make the decision to become an astronaut? The thing every boy wants to be when he grows up is a fireman or an astronaut. I wanted to be an astronaut. I continued wanting to be an astronaut; I never grew out of it. I’d traveled by plane since I was small. I began to make applications to become an astronaut in the early 1990s. Because I was both an engineer and a pilot, they finally accepted me. I was overjoyed. There was a long period of preparation and training but my ambition was even greater. What can be seen from space and how do astronauts feel when they have the world at their feet? The Earth seemed to me like some strange planet. It looks like a spaceship, although it’s beautiful. It was much brighter than I had imagined, while having the third dimension added to the image that we have from photographs was an awesome experience. On the other hand, I realized how small the Earth is in relation to the universe… I acknowledged my size and the smallness of our world. The most astonishing thing of all was the possibility we have of sustaining life away from our world, a fact that fills you with a sense of power, vainglorious though that sounds. Which area of the planet made the greatest impression on you? It was a unique experience to see a green, shining sheath around areas like Australia. At the same time, I was very moved when I made out my country, France. A typical incident was when I was dangling from the spaceship by my legs with a view of the Earth. I had a sense that everything was so under control… I must admit that we astronauts are all excessively ambitious and conceited. How does one adjust to the lack of gravity? Though we get used to it inside the spaceship, when we do a space walk, things are a little different. At first, I enjoyed it, but after the first 10 minutes, I was exhausted. Think of my being 20 hours outside the spaceship during which time I had to have everything I wanted in my hands tied to me by rope; for the first time (in my life), anything I let go of floated off – it didn’t fall. How did the Columbia disaster affect you and your family? Many of our friends were aboard the Columbia, so we were all very upset in our house. Your nearest and dearest don’t feel the security an astronaut feels. I have tried to keep my two children as far as possible from the experience in order to protect them. It’s very easy to be a good astronaut. But to be a good astronaut, husband and an affectionate father is a huge challenge. You prepare for a flight for many years and when you get home, your mind is still in space. You’re absolutely concentrated on your goal and have difficulty switching to mundane matters. That’s a problem.