In order to talk about the time I was lucky to meet the astronaut Claudie Haigneré, I have to go back in time.
I was raised in Japan and when I was young I was scared of everything.
But on the other hand I talked so much! It was probably to try hide my risk averse nature.
But for some reason, my dream was to become an Astronaut.
In school I was fascinated with science, in particular Physics thanks to my incredible teacher, Mr. Schiano. He was such a charismatic person, he was science.
He used to organise extra hours of physics classes for those of us who were interested, where we would build orbits and calculate planet trajectories, hours of calculations for points we’d pin on A4 sheets taped to one another in order to draw ellipses. We would also explore galaxies. I never missed a single class.
In Japan, we were totally in our world, the only contact with French reality was when we got to watch the French news broadcasted once a week on Japanese TV, and it felt like watching a movie about aliens.
However, when we graduated from high school, we were all expected to depart for France where we would study, but study to become what?
All we knew of work was our parents’, working in embassies or international companies – blurry office work we had no clue of.
I’ll never forget the day Adults came to tell us about their jobs. I desperately looked for the astronaut amongst them, and ended being sat in front of an inspiring and dedicated ER doctor who worked as an anaesthetist in the Alps mountains, saving people’s lives.
I had not recovered from the death of my very good friend Cecile’s younger sister a few years earlier, and touched by the unfairness of life, had made a vow to myself to become a paediatrician. When I met this doctor, I thought: I can do it, this will bring me closer to my dream, I want to be this kind of doctor.
A year later, there I am in Paris, sat in a giant lecture theatre with 400 crazy students playing badminton during lectures, asking for a break 5 minutes after the class has started, throwing (fresh) eggs at the lucky guys who have a front row seat and can hear the professor, kidnapping the teacher in a coffin on Halloween’s day… yes, I’d met with the reality of 1st year of medical school, in one of the dodgiest areas of Paris, where healthcare vans would pass on the avenue throwing condoms to prostitutes for them to protect themselves.
I found it hard to relate to mountain ER doctors or to the stars… and I gave up.
10 years passed, and while we’d created Pop In the City, I was lucky enough to be part of a special meeting of women where we got to meet Claudie Haigneré so she would share her experience.
Claudie Haigneré is the first French and European woman to have gone in space. She travelled on the Russian station Mir, and also on the International Space Station.
During this inspiring talk, where most of the women are over 40 except for me, Claudie Haigneré insists on the fact there aren’t enough women in sciences and in space. But that just like men, she had to be determined, and that thank to hard work and passion, she made it. She had 11 years of training and exams before boarding Mir!!
Listening to her and meeting her creates a huge distress in me: how did I never hear about this incredible woman? How is that even possible? I keep thinking “it’s too late! It’s too late!”
I want to tell her if she’d come to my school to talk about her astronaut life, meeting a woman doing this job might have convinced me this could be more than a simple dream, and that even a woman could dream to become a cosmonaut. Because she would have been the proof this is possible.
So as I raised my hand to tell her this, and she answers with a smile “Yes?”, I try to talk and break into tears…
Well, I’m not sure I’m ready to board a space shuttle…
Conclusion: tell your girls to go into sciences! There could be so many Claudie Haigneré on sleep mode…