7 May 2021
Claudie Haigneré was ESA's very first female European astronaut.
Tell us about your journey. This childhood dream?
It all started with the wonder of a little girl at 12 (seeing with fascination Man's first step on the Moon in July 1969), an open door to the possibility of achieving the impossible, then nourished by reading stories. adventure, science fiction books and films that have reinforced an imagination and a desire.
Your beginnings as an astronaut?
I became a rheumatologist and discovered at my place of work at Cochin hospital, in 1985, the call for applications from CNES (National Center for Space Studies, French space agency) looking for astronauts to carry out science programs on board space stations. I am a candidate (with evidence for me), I am selected (1 woman among 7 candidates from a selection of 1000 applications including 100 female applications 10%). I complete my training by doing a thesis in Neurosciences.
I went to training in 1992 at The City of Stars near Moscow in Russia and I will have the chance to fly twice, in 1996 aboard the Mir Station, then in 2001 aboard the International Space Station, again in orbit today. After these 2 flights, there are many opportunities open to me, which I accept. I am part of the government of Jean-Pierre Raffarin under the Presidency of Jacques Chirac from 2002 to 2005, first Minister for Research and then Minister for European Affairs.
I then joined the ESA (European Space Agency) where I worked on European Space Policy, then I took the executive presidency of Universcience (grouping of the Palais de la Découverte and the Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie from 2009 to 2015 ).
Then he returned to ESA and worked for 5 years on human exploration programs to the Moon.
And as a side business?
I have always devoted a lot of time to outreach to young school and college students, boys and girls, promoting careers in Science and Engineering. I also had the opportunity to participate in the boards of directors (boards) of large companies and many educational foundations, I take part in diplomatic actions in particular with Russia, by promoting the interest of scientific cooperation, and I was able to develop my interest in innovation, in particular DeepTech and IA in its techno, societal and ethical aspects to give meaning to the action.
What were your drivers, your motivation levers to achieve your goals?
My first answer undeniably shows that my primary driving force has always been dreams: dreaming big and therefore boldly, while retaining from childhood the capacity for wonder and curiosity. After that, you have to be realistic and realize that achieving your dream takes work, patience, and perseverance. Life experience has also shown me how important it is to know how to question yourself in order to grow from your successes and failures. I also have the firm conviction that diversity and the collective are levers for success, it allows you to stay calm yourself, by effectively completing a team. Finally, you should never hesitate to step out of your comfort zone, it is emulating and rewarding. By working with openness and critical thinking, we give ourselves the chance, in conscience, to seize new opportunities or to create them. You must always cultivate a certain appetite for "elsewhere and otherwise", particularly in the face of complexity and uncertainty.
What do you think a good leader is?
A good leader is an inspirer, a mobilizer of positive energies. He is the one who:
- knows how to make the collective more than the sum of each
- find the common language to express a clear objective and a structured roadmap
- is listening to find together the solution to which everyone contributes, but the one who makes the decision and takes responsibility for the implementation with successes and failures
- emulate his team to extract the best from it, by making each one grow, so that his collaborators are involved actors and not only Followers of the Leader.
- is vigilant in minimizing inequalities and reducing discrimination of all types
- promotes diversity and organizes collective intelligence
- knows how to feed information and ideas to top management, and knows how to use influence
- exercises critical thinking, demonstrates rigor, also thinks "out of the box"
- knows how to be humble when necessary while being as congruent as possible
- leaves some initiative while cultivating assertiveness
- is aware that good ideas can also come from elsewhere
- places the objectives in a long-term context even if it is necessary to deliver in the short term
- is aware that work is only one of the components of life, and that we have the right to disconnect, vacations, domestic requirements, as long as they are justified and anticipated when it is possible
How do you see the place of women in our society?
Our society is diverse in numbers, but that diversity is not being used optimally to transform and grow society.
Today, women represent 50% of the talents that can contribute to the progress of our societies. In Europe, we are facing a war for talent in many technological fields (cybersecurity, AI, digital, quantum, aerospace, etc.). Women contribute to the solution both quantitatively and qualitatively. The low presence of women in certain scientific or technical professions, observed at present, has multiple causes, and the means of action must be activated with determination and perseverance at 3 levels
- in education (deconstruction of clichés, exemplary models, opening up possibilities, helping to build confidence, etc.) from early childhood to career guidance
- from entering the professional sector (job description, mentoring, mixed networks, career support, etc.) to a good quality of life at work throughout the career (organization of working time, equal pay, periods special lives, pregnancy, parental responsibility, family constraints, etc., reskilling)
- from the recognition of talents to the attention paid to equal access to management and expertise levels as well as to decision-making circles (C level)
In certain underprivileged or constrained environments, scientific and technical fields are a lever for emancipation, as well as access to rewarding employment. Diversity in all its components beyond gender is an asset and an enrichment, it is a solution not a problem.
The race for innovation raises many questions. Transhumanism, ethics ... the place of man. What does this sometimes frantic race inspire you?
It is important beyond expertise, to acquire wisdom in responsibility for action. We can no longer limit ourselves to knowledge and know-how, but acquire interpersonal skills (relational, sharing, multidisciplinarity, common language to be forged, construction of circles of trust, influence / soft power) and know-how.
This goes through several points:
-the rise of soft skills.
- in many technological companies, the view of the SHS (sociologist, jurists, economists, philosophers, jurists, etc.) is essential and still lacking
- We must reintroduce forward thinking, a culture of risk, and the acceptance of uncertainty as a lever for transformation and an opportunity for innovation
- We must acquire the ability to distance ourselves (beyond short-term ROI) to think about the long term, the context, the ethics, the meaning.
- interdisciplinarity and hybridization are levers of innovation, and through different approaches they allow people to be placed at the heart, in their diversity.
All this so that "the human at heart" is a real conviction, commitment and vigilance. Indeed,
we have a moral duty, an obligation to contribute to a responsible education of our children (critical thinking in the face of fake news, drifts and bias, believing in their talent, supporting their failures, etc.) "Raising" them means helping them to grow and become themselves (probably different from us).
The coronavirus crisis has shaken our societies. What can we learn from this?
The world of tomorrow is not the world of yesterday, it is uncertain, but these uncertainties are also spaces of freedom, change and transformation to be seized. The first observation is to recognize that our world is undergoing a profound change and that each of us must be an actor of transitions, without ineffective nostalgia for a world that is inexorably changing. It is up to us to project ourselves into a future, a desirable future and to work to implement it. Whenever possible, let us not forget to be attentive to others and supportive as much as possible. It makes us give up all naivety, but keep our capacity for wonder and hope. We should recognize our abilities and talents without giving in to pessimism and fatalism, but on the contrary by mobilizing collective intelligence and determination. It’s up to us to write the future.