Jean-François Clervoy is a French-born ESA and CNES astronaut, and a veteran of three NASA Space Shuttle missions. In his exclusive interview with LocalBini, he talks about his experiences space and his current role as an active astronaut. Read the interview to discover Jean-François’s journey to becoming an astronaut, and learn about his three missions for NASA in greater detail.
It is an honor to meet you Jean-François Clervoy. Could you begin by telling our readers a little bit about yourself?
My name is Jean-François Clervoy and I was born in 1958. I graduated from Ecole Polytechnique in Paris in 1981, and then attended the National College of Aeronautics and Space in Toulouse (ISAE-Supaero). After graduating in 1983, I worked for the French space agency on space probes and satellites. Then, at the age of 26-and-a-half, I was selected in the second group of French astronauts.
After that, I went to a test flight school where I conducted test flights while doing my thesis on parabolic flights. Then, in 1992, I was selected in the second group of European Astronauts and was immediately detached to NASA as a mission specialist in the 14th group of NASA Astronauts. At NASA, I was assigned to three very different space missions.
What was the purpose of these three missions?
My first mission, which was aboard the space shuttle Atlantis, was to study the atmosphere. We were flying upside down, at the greatest orbital inclination above the equator that exists for human-space-flight. The view of the Earth from that position was simply spectacular.
My second mission, also aboard Atlantis, was to resupply the Russian space station Mir. The human experience was particularly intense during this mission. We exchanged one Mir crew member and also brought vital resources (food, water, spare parts, clothing, …) to the crew that was counting on us to continue their long stay in space.
Finally, during my third mission, I flew twice higher than my first mission. Our job was to repair the Hubble Space Telescope. Unlike other missions that are usually for maintenance or upgrade purposes, this mission required us to repair a telescope that was completely non-functional.
So, to sum up my three missions I would say: the first one was for the Earth, the second one was for People, and the third one was for Science.
And what are you currently doing? Do you remain an active astronaut?
Before my assignment to NASA I developed the first parabolic flight program in Europe. Parabolic flights follow special manoeuvers that reproduce real weightlessness. After ten years at NASA, I was appointed as the senior advisor astronaut of the ISS (International Space Station) European resupply program. Then, at the time the program was about to launch, the head of Novespace, who had taken over the parabolic flight program I had initiated 15 years earlier, was retiring. I was then seconded as Chairman CEO of this company while remaining an active ESA astronaut. I am currently still the Chairman of Novespace, which owns and operates airbus A310 Zero-G, while also working as an astronaut supporting the human-space program.
So is it possible that you will fly again?
Realistically speaking, it is unlikely that I will ever fly again on a government program. My role as an astronaut now is to share my experience and expertise with engineering teams preparing programs for the future. Meanwhile, my other focus is to make parabolic flights accessible to the public. In the past, these flights were only authorized for scientific purposes. Now, parabolic flights are open to the general public several times per year. During these flights, people experience true Mars gravity, Lunar gravity, and about 5 minutes of pure weightlessness (zeroG) in the course of 15 parabolic flight manoeuvers.
So my focus now is to contribute to human space flight programs by sharing my expertise, while managing the company that organizes reduced gravity or weightless flights on the biggest Zero-G aircraft in the world for both science and the general public.
Stay tuned next week to learn how Jean-François’s experiences in space affected his perception of life on Earth and for a first-hand account of what launching into space feels like…