Speaking to a group at the European Commission on 8 March 2006, charismatic European cosmonaut and former French Minister Delegate of Research Claudie Haigneré touched on a wide range of science and technology-related issues, urging both women and men to take part in the adventure that is space.

“There is no doubt that men and women are different,” said Haigneré, “We are equal but not identical. During my mission aboard the Mir space station, I had to adapt quickly to an environment conceived by and for men, and there were some things that were very difficult to get used to, but, working as a team, my crew and I learned to recognise each other’s strengths and complementarities.

“Women, as much as men, have important contributions to make, because we are women, with our own approaches and perspectives. In science and technology, in public administration and in board rooms, women are rich in savoir faire. We are here and we can make a difference.”

Haigneré space milestones:

  • Claudie Haigneré was selected as a French candidate astronaut in 1985 by CNES, the French Space Agency;
  • In 1994, she was assigned to the ‘Cassiopée’ mission as Research Cosmonaut. The 16-day mission took place from 17 August to 2 September 1996;
  • In 1999, she became the first woman to qualify as a Soyuz Return Commander, meaning she can command a three-person Soyuz capsule during its return from space;
  • In 2001, she became the first European woman to visit the International Space Station (ISS).

Steady progress

“A lot has changed these last 20 years with more women playing important roles in science and in industry, but we still have a long way to go. We still have obstacles to overcome and stereotypes to defeat.”

Haigneré cited persistent regional differences in participation of women within Europe; in France, only about 14% of elected officials are women, while in Norway the figure is above 40%. “I do not consider myself a militant,” she said, “but I do believe we need to make further progress. We need to communicate with and continue to motivate our young women, and we need to look at appropriate regulation as a means of ensuring equality of opportunity among the sexes.

“We can also continue to support important initiatives that highlight excellence among women in science, initiatives that help to create and communicate positive role models for our young people.”

Space advocate

Haigneré remains a confirmed believer in a central role for space “Space is at the heart of many European policy initiatives,” she said. “The Galileo programme, for example, will be crucial for mobility in the enlarged Union. GMES, the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security initiative, is important for addressing sustainable development and all of our environmental concerns, and for the emerging European Security and Defence Policy. Satellite communications are critical for the knowledge-based society and are a key commercial asset for the European space industry and the economy as a whole.

“But space goes beyond all of this. It is, quite simply, what dreams are made of. From childhood to old age, we look to the stars and are dazzled by the adventure of space. Autonomous European access to space is now crucial, to ensure our presence on this great frontier. Space brings real material benefits but it also gives us a reason to feel proud.

“Space, then, remains an important European challenge for the future,” she concluded, “and a common European Space Policy is the first step, defining our shared vision and objectives. The recently established European Space Council is a part of that process.

“Space is a fantastic field,” she said, “and you can be a part of it. We have made enormous contributions over the past 40 years, men, women, all of us. Today, a Europe in space is a Europe of values where we are all represented.”

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