40 Years Ago: The First French Person in Space

40 Years Ago: The First French Person in Space

On 24 June 1982, Jean-Loup Chrétien took off for the Soviet station Salyut-7, thus becoming the first French person in space. During a mission of almost eight days, he carried out several experiments for CNES.

As the 1980s approached, no-one of French nationality had gone into space. In 1979, French President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing accepted in principle a cooperative mission with the Soviet Union. The French space agency, CNES, initiated a selection procedure which led to two pilots from the Air Force, Patrick Baudry and Jean-Loup Chrétien being chosen.

A French First and Experiments

For the two men, two years training at the City of Stars, near Moscow, began in September 1980, where the cosmonauts of the Soviet space programme were trained.

Jean-Loup Chrétien (left) with Patrick Baudry during their training at the City of Stars in the suburbs of Moscow.  Credit: CNES

Jean-Loup Chrétien (left) with Patrick Baudry during their training at the City of Stars in the suburbs of Moscow. Credit: CNES

In France, the political changeover with the election of François Mitterrand in 1981 did not call into question what would become PVH (for Premier Vol Habité [First Crewed Flight]) and it was Jean-Loup Chrétien, then 43 years old, who was selected for this mission. He took off from Baikonur on 24 June 1982 with Vladimir Djhanibekov and Alexander Ivanchekov.

From left to right: Jean-Loup Chrétien and his Soviet colleagues Vladimir Djhanibekov and Alexander Ivanchekov heading to their launcher and the ship Soyuz T-6 on 24 June 1982. Credit: CNES/Intercosmos

From left to right: Jean-Loup Chrétien and his Soviet colleagues Vladimir Djhanibekov and Alexander Ivanchekov heading to their launcher and the ship Soyuz T-6 on 24 June 1982. Credit: CNES/Intercosmos

Their destination: the Salyut-7 space station, aboard which they were welcomed by Valentin Lebedev and Anatoli Berezovoy. The aim of PVH, however, was not only to send the first French person into space, it also involved carrying out, thanks to being in orbit, CNES’s scientific experiments, initiating the know-how which still continues today and for which France has recognised expertise.

From left to right aboard Salyut-7: Valentin Lebedev, Alexander Ivanchenkov, Jean-Loup Chrétien and Vladimir Djhanibekov.  Credit: CNES/Intercosmos

From left to right aboard Salyut-7: Valentin Lebedev, Alexander Ivanchenkov, Jean-Loup Chrétien and Vladimir Djhanibekov. Credit: CNES/Intercosmos

Jean-Loup Chrétien returned to Earth with Ivanchenkov and Djhanibekov on 2 July 1982 aboard Soyuz T-6. His first flight lasted almost eight days (7 days and 21 hours).

40 Years After at Cité de l’espace

Four decades later, Jean-Loup Chrétien came to tell us about his historic flight at Cité de l’espace in Toulouse during a live broadcast of the RTL show Jour J, presented by Flavie Flament.

Jean-Loup Chrétien (left) at Cité de l'espace on the temporary RTL platform for the Jour J show on 8 June 2022 with Flavie Flament (in the centre). Credit: Florence Seroussi / Cité de l'espace

Jean-Loup Chrétien (left) at Cité de l’espace on the temporary RTL platform for the Jour J show on 8 June 2022 with Flavie Flament (in the centre). Credit: Florence Seroussi / Cité de l’espace

You can listen to a recording of this show by following the link below:
Jean-Loup Chrétien on RTL for Jour J.

After PVH in 1982, Jean-Loup Chrétien took part in two other space missions. During the second, Aragatz to Mir in 1988, lasting almost 25 days, he was the first French person to go out in a space suit. His third flight in 1997 for about ten days (aboard the American shuttle Atlantis) took him back to Mir.
He subsequently carried out several jobs, focusing particularly on technological innovation. He totalled over three flights, 43 days, 11 hours and 17 minutes in space.

Below, a 2013 video from CNES, which draws a portrait of Jean-Loup Chrétien.