France to be the fourth nation in space

The credible recent rumours that China is less than a week away from it’s first manned space flight appear to have stimulated some other potential space-faring nations. France and Russia have announced an accord en principle to launch manned Russian Soyuz craft from the ESA launch centre at Kourou in French Guiana. The Soyuz is the now roughly thirty-five year old Russian three-man launch vehicle which China has cloned for its space programme. France will be footing approximately half of the €350 million the ESA has allocated to the programme, making either France or the ESA the world’s fourth space power. Agence France-Presse, via Spaceflight Daily, is reporting that launches could take place as soon as 2006.

With the American space shuttle (also designed roughly 30 years ago) grounded indefinitely and no new money going into the design of manned launch vehicles, the Soyuz is the only manned space vehicle currently in service and appears likely to stay that way

According to French primeminister Jean-Marie Raffarin, “Cela nous donnera une grande base [permettant] ? nos industries spatiales, avec les Russes mais aussi avec les Allemands et les Europ?ens [..] d’avoir acc?s ? l’espace et ? toutes ses richesses dans l’ind?pendance.”

It seems that the Columbia shuttle accident and recent US-EU tensions have forced the ESA to evaluate its options for an independent manned space capability. At present, only the Russian space agency is able to reach the International Space Station. I guess the ESA figured that if China could afford to launch Soyuz capsules, then it’s probably the cheapest option for European manned space travel.

If €350 million will buy you a copy of the Russian manned space programme, can Japan be far behind? Perhaps even Brazil will want to join the game, since it has a really quite well developed unmanned space programme. €350 million isn’t that much money. There are individuals with more in assets than that.

It has become traditional for each space-faring nation to come up with a new word for people who travel in space. Americans are astronauts, Russians are cosmonauts, and Chinese space travelers are taikonauts (from tai4kong1 taikong – Mandarin for “space.”) Will an independent manned EU space programme require a new term? Enquiring minds (well, pedantic lexicographers at any rate) want to know.

My Petit Robert already has a French appellation for space travellers: spationaute. The term is, apparently, in actual use, since googling it gets approximately 2,300 hits. Some of the French press – and even a few anglophone outlets – have used the word to refer to Frenchmen (and women) who have travelled into space on the shuttle and on Russian launches. My Robert dates it to 1962, but doesn’t tell me if it was an Académie Française invention or a spontaneous production of the French media. It also marks it as rare, but that seems to be rapidly changing.

From a lexicographic standpoint, this one-word-per-nation approach is a disaster. I wonder if the other members of the ESA will be demanding their own words for their space travellers. Will Germans taking off from Kourou demand to be refered to as “Raumonauts”? How about the Brits and the Irish? Will they demand separate terminology from the Americans? Or worse, from each other? Will the Irish demand to be known as fanasonauts? Perhaps, in the name of European cooperation, we should all agree on a single term. Euronaut is a distinct possibility. The Latin root vacuus suggest vaconaut, but something tells me that will not fly. Any suggestions?

29 thoughts on “France to be the fourth nation in space

  1. In related news:
    “China has struck a deal to invest in Galileo, the European Union’s space satellite navigation network.”

    There seems to be some serious developments, as far as space is concerned, lately. It might be that a space race is about to restart.
    As for the terminology: whatever one chooses let’s make sure both roots are from the same language (as is the case with both cosmonaut and astronaut)… Spationaut doesn’t fit the bill.

  2. Talos – spatio- has a Latin root, “spatiosus”, I think, and so does astro-, “aster”. -naut is from the Greek word for sailor, and cosmo- is from a Greek root too. The root situation is already mixed. “Taikonaut” pushes the limit by mixing modern Chinese and ancient Greek, but “spationaute” doesn’t.

    “Ionaut” also returns to a fully Greek morphology, but since “ion” comes from the Greek word for “alone”, calling them “lonely sailors” might have secondary meanings. :^)

    There has been some real movement on space travel lately, everywhere except the States as far as I can tell. I think the reason is that what cost billions of dollars and represented a meaningful part of a country’s GDP in the 1960′s, is now relatively inexpensive technology accessible to all sorts of state-sized entities.

  3. Scott: the word “aster” is Greek as well – so astronaut *and* cosmonaut are cosher!
    Ion is the participle of the verb “Eimi” (With the acccent on the first i, not the second!) meaning “to come”. Ion is “that which is coming” – and by extension “that which is moving”.
    The “sailor who is coming”…surely ample space for elaborate puns!
    Also wholly Greek would be the word “planetonaut”, which would apply perfestly to any future manned expeditions to Mars.

  4. “Planetonaut” is somewhat less than euphonious, IMHO.

    Perhaps we should reserve “ionaut” for the distant day when a manned mission heads off to the moons of Jupiter.

  5. Why not just call them planets – wanderers?

    talos – Defense in the US is really peeved about the whole Galileo project, because it threatens US military hegemony. Don’t know whether that will lead to another space race, but the involvement of the Defense Dept and their demonstrated willingness to gobble up other responsibilities (look at Iraq) doesn’t bode well…

  6. I stand corrected. “Ast?r” is the Greek word the Romans stole it from. Mixing Greek and Latin is prety much the norm anyway, and “taikonaut” is not a Chinese invention. The Chinese press apparently uses 宇航員 yu3hang2yuan2 – spaceship crewman – as their standard term for all sorts of space traveller. It is the translation given for astronaut and cosmonaut alike.

  7. The introduction of Galileo most likely will mean the introduction of space-based weaponry, too.

    Ah, well. Thanks to the French we will now have an arms race in space.

  8. Most likely the American reaction will be what the British reaction was to the Kaiser’s determination to build the GermanE

    The British were determined as an island nation to have a command of the seas, keeping a hold to the rule that the British fleet had to be bigger than the combined fleets of two of the leading foreign fleets, should these fleets be friendly or not.

    Given the rife anti-Americanism in the world, the US will view Galileo as a national security threat, and most likely take counter-measures to keep command of the skies.

    Whether that’s right or wrong is besides the point. The point is that an arms race in space is in the works. The French initiative is as unwise as that of the Kaiser’s….

  9. I fail to see how Galileo could possibly be construed as a threat to U.S. national security. I would, in fact, argue that it is in fact a reaction to potential national security threats FROM the U.S. Because as long as there is no alternative to GPS, every single system in Europe (and elsewhere) that depends on U.S. military satellites is under constant threat of being shut down by the Pentagon on its merest whim.

  10. So if Europeans take an initaitive that benefits them they are a menace, if not they are free-loading.

    BTW the USA have militarized space since the beginning.


  11. vaara – the US sees Galileo as a threat first of all to its global military hegemony, but also as a specifically military threat because it won’t be in specifically military hands. The idea is that rogue states or terrorists (the only actors in US forign policy) would somehow get control of the network and use it for nefarious ends. Defense therefore wants control, which is what they have with GPS.

  12. Hmmmm? My earlier post seemed to have lost something in transit. “GermanE5″ was supposed to be the “German High Seas Fleet…

    In any case, given the shattering effect of a multi-polar world, we might see a trend where polar competition will engender a whole new arms race, akin to the ones that preceded WW1. As Galileo does directly threaten the US (as Paul pointed out) it will only be a matter of time that the US develops arms to take out Galileo satellites, in the event of conflict. And I’m sure the rest of the world will respond.

    Antoni: the problem is that Galileo doesn’t benefit Europe, since they would have to pay for something they already get for free. No, this has little to do with taking initiative, and all to do with French anti-American spite. And just like the Kaiser’s vanity drove him to build a fleet that had little real value for Germany, but which did force Britain to the enemy camp (since that fleet became a national security threat), so too will France’s vanity drive the US to put its national security first.

  13. ” Galileo doesn’t benefit Europe, since they would have to pay for something they already get for free. ”

    Didn’t you bash Europeans for freeloading before?

    ” No, this has little to do with taking initiative, and all to do with French anti-American spite”

    developping the technology to do Galileo in itself is a great gain. My viewpoint is rather that whatever you say is “american anti-french hate”.

    “US to put its national security first.”

    So risk aversion is nice when done by the USA.


  14. Antoni: Yes, Europeans are freeloaders, but in this case it seems to be pure envy that is motivating the French. There are a multitude of technological fields where France and Germany could make a serious contribution: pollution control, hybrid and hydrogen fuel-cell automobiles, all of which could benefit the US, too, and help the world.

    But France chooses to invest in something that harms the US. The question Europeans should ask is: Why? I don’t think France’s answer is adequate. So isn’t it any wonder anti-French sentiment is growing in the US?

    We are certainly heading for more war, not less. It isn’t inconceivable that the US and Europe could come to blows in the next half century, at the rate we’re going.

  15. I’ll remain neutral in the controversy over Galileo. But there is really no anti-European feeling in the USA (except among eccentrics–sorry, no doubt individual crazies may be located).

    What you might have encountered, Mr. Jaume, was actually directed at me–not Europeans. In other words, advocates of the Bush Administration’s dictatorial proclivities are trying to create a bizarre synthetic resentment with no historic roots. The target is Americans in the opposition.

    Here’s how it works: I suggest that a lot of features of European society are successful and popular and have been tested for decades. We Americans could imitate them.

    They say “James, why do you hate America?”

    I say “Where the hell did that come from?”

    They can always trundle out articles from Le Monde Diplomatique, which do tend to sound quite malevolent to Americans. Or they can blather about Swiss socialism (yes, I’m mocking elected Republicans!) and bickering ensues about that.

    European opinions, expressed in public, have always provoked a lot of alarm from Americans. But the prestige and affection Europeans have in the US is enormous. If you have experienced rudeness from Yanks, I’m sorry but that represents that individual’s personal problems–it’s not a reflection of widespread sentiment.

  16. James: I do agree with your sentiments. Most Americans have no hostility towards Europe. However, there is another kind of an American perspective that needs to be taken into account by both Europeans and Americans: the recent immigrants, often dual citizens, who have experienced life on both sides of the pond.

    In your efforts to reassure Europeans that there is no anti-European hostility in America, you’d most likely expect that your sentiments would be reciprocated. However, should you ever have a chance to immerse yourself in the kind of discourse Europeans engage in amongst themselves – especially when the language is not in English – you’d recognize that the goodwill of Americans is certainly not returned.

  17. “you’d recognize that the goodwill of Americans is certainly not returned”

    I don’t know what kind of people you meet or where you get information, but both in the media and in popular opinion, European attitudes towards America are neither uniform nor uniformly negative.

    - Lots of people like American culture (in a broad sense, whether films, folk music, hamburgers, whatever). On the other hand, there are enough people who think it vulgar,

    - Lots of people have travelled or lived in the US or know Americans who live in Europe. Generally they are happy with the experience. As usual, there are the unhappy exceptions. Plus, some American attitudes are very different from what most Europeans think (e.g.about the death penalty)

    - Remember 9/11 ? There was a huge outpouring of support and sympathy for the US.

    - US government policies have come in for serious criticism, especially under G.W.Bush. But there is a long-term issue here. Just one example: Do you remember that US governments supported dictatorship in Spain, Greece and Portugal ? A lot of people really mean “US government” when they say “America” – the same happen from the other side, of course

    - Finally, Europe is a very diverse continent. Speaking about “European attitudes” without any qualifications often is sloppy thinking. How much can you really generalize about Britain, Ukraine, Spain, Germany, Finland, Croatia and Malta (to name just some of the countries) ?

    Karl Heinz

    Hamburg, Germany

  18. Back to the original topic

    The Germans use Astronaut / Cosmonaut often enough. Proper German is “Raumfahrer” – space traveller.

    If you want some term suitable for all of Europe, the Vatican Dictionary has a modern Latin term: “Nauta Sideralis” – Star sailor ;-)

    Strictly speaking, I am unhappy with any term that includes “Star”. We are literally light years away from travelling to any star. “Space” is more appropiate. So intellectually I prefer Cosmonaut to Astronaut. However, I admit that I routinely use Astronaut out of habit.

    Karl Heinz

    Hamburg, Germany

  19. I’ve just formulated a theory. ‘Markku’ is actually one of the fistful team in disguise, trotting out a block of stereotypical arguments in an attempt to stir things up and get some debate going. Come-on which of us is it…. me, Mat, Jurjen, Dave……? Probably it was me. But still it has worked surprisingly well.The comments section is really a goer. Now, like the space vehicle this post was originally about, we can perhaps enjoy the little luxury of freely orbiting without the aid of that added external propulsion.

  20. Edward, I know your European education tends to discourage free-association when it comes to ideas. Perhaps that in itself is another reason why Europeans lack initiative and innovation in so many fields….

    In either case, I take it as a compliment that I’ve been able to liven things up a bit. The discussions in Euro blogs tend to be so circumspect, and filled with too much probity.

  21. ‘Europeans lack initiative and innovation in so many fields’

    Markku, Out of curiosity, do you consider yourself a European ?

    Or did you exempt yourself from your unfounded slander ?

  22. Regarding the name-issue:

    Buzz Aldrin in his novel “Encounter with Tiber” inventend a fictional french space programm and of course with an french name: ?astropilot de france?, in short: ?astro-f?. I’d could imagine an astro-e.

    Like Karl Heinz I would prefer something like space traveller, Raumfahrer – or sounding more poetic: Raumreisender – in german and similar terms in other languages.

    By the way: I like to say that Germany’s first astronaut was a cosmonaut. ;-)

  23. Markku, don’t be fucking stupid. GPS systems are increasingly being incorporated into civilian infrastructure, and there are even plans to use them for safety-critical systems like air traffic control. It is absolutely unacceptable that European civilian infrastructure should operate at the pleasure of the US Department of Defense. This is the imperative that drives the Galileo system — and it’s the reason why the US lobbied hard against it.