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CULTURE

Meet Sophie Adenot – the new ESA astronaut and ‘proud Frenchwoman’

The European Space Agency has unveiled its new class of astronauts - one of whom is Sophie Adenot, who will be the second French woman to take up the role of career astronaut.

Meet Sophie Adenot - the new ESA astronaut and 'proud Frenchwoman'
French ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet (C) poses with ESA Astronaut Class of 2022 Arnaud Prost (L), and Sophie Adenot (R) during a ceremony to unveil the European Space Agency new class of career astronauts (Photo by Joël SAGET / AFP)

Among the group of 17 European astronauts France is represented by career astronaut Sophie Adenot and astronaut reserve Arnaud Prost.

The “new class”, five of whom will work as career astronauts and 11 will be part of the reserve pool, will be the third group for the European Space Agency – an inter-governmental organisation “dedicated to the exploration of space.”

They will begin with 12 months of basic training at the European Astronaut Centre in Cologne, Germany, before joining the existing corps, and will eventually be able to perform long-duration spaceflight missions, notably aboard the international space station, as well as joining the crews for future missions to the moon.

The space agency also appointed its first disabled astronaut, British Paralympic sprinter John McFall, to be part of the new class. According to the ESA, no major Western agency has ever sent a “parastronaut” to space. McFall lost his right leg in a motorbike accident in 2000.

Here’s what you need to know about Sophie;

She was picked out of thousands

Chosen from over 22,500 candidate’s, France’s Sophie Adenot, 40, hails from the Burgundy area in north-east France.

She speaks several languages

Aside from her mother tongue, which is French, Sophie is fluent in English. She also speaks German, Spanish and Russian. 

She is also an avid parachutist and yoga teacher

Adenot has several hobbies, including outdoor sports like skiing and mountain biking, but most notably she is also a certified yoga teacher, in addition to having her scuba diving license and being a trained skydiver. 

On her profile of the ESA website, Sophie Adenot explained that in addition to all of her experience as a pilot and her hobbies, she also has “fifteen years of experience” in helping to make science more accessible by giving lectures and lessons to children.

She has broken gender barriers

More than twenty years after Claudie Haigneré was named France’s first female astronaut, Adenot will be the second French woman to be a career astronaut with the European Space Agency.

However, she has broken gender barriers before. A trained engineer with specialisation in aircraft flight dynamics, with degrees from MIT in Boston, USA and Ecole Nationale Supérieure de l’Aéronautique et de l’Espace (ISAE-SUPAERO) in Toulouse, France, Adenot went on to join the French Air Force in 2005 and become a helicopter pilot. In that role, she worked as a combat search and rescue pilot, having conducted several rescue operations in “hostile or desert environments,” according to Ouest France.

She made history in 2018 when she became France’s first female helicopter test pilot to test prototypes, and in 2021 she was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel.

Adenot has accumulated more than 3,000 flight hours on 22 different machines.

She was awarded the Order of Merit

In 2022, Adenot received the National Order of Merit and the Medal of the National Assembly (la médaille de l’Assemblée nationale) honouring her actions as an inspirational ambassador for gender equality in science in 2021.

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CULTURE

What you need to know about the French bear festival recognised by Unesco

The Fête de l'Ours, celebrated in parts of southern France, has been added to UNESCO's world heritage list - here is what you need to know about this quirky festival involving Frenchmen in bear skins chasing young women.

What you need to know about the French bear festival recognised by Unesco

Baguettes are not the only French cultural phenomenon to have been added to the UNESCO “intangible world heritage” list this week.

The Fête de l’Ours – or the Bear Festival – which takes place in the Pyrenees, along the border with Spain, also made the cut. Stretching all the way back to the Middle Ages, the festival has some surprising components.

The tradition involves a man dressing up as a bear and chasing humans. At the end of the festival, the humans catch the man in the bear costume, and ‘skin’ him (take off his bear costume) so he can “become human again,” Patrick Luis, the organiser of the festival in Prats-de-Mollo-la-Preste, told Franceinfo.  

READ MORE: The decades-old battle between French farmers and conservationists over bears

It is a celebration of the end of winter, and while it was celebrated in all villages in the region up to the 19th century, it still occurs in three villages in the Haut Vallespir, located in the Pyrenees-Orientales département.

The application for UNESCO heritage status was made alongside Andorra, where two other Bear Festivals still happen each year. There is a slight difference though – the Andorran festivals celebrate female bears specifically.

Over the years, people living in this part of France have continued the tradition, even during times of war. The festival always takes place in February, and each year about 10,000 people participate.

Meant to symbolise the rebirth of spring, the festival has some interesting facets.

READ MORE: OPINION: 24 years after I first reported on wolves in France, they are at my door in Normandy

Robert Bosch, a specialist in the Bear Festivals, told Ouest France that the “bear man comes out of the wilderness to replenish the village.” In order to do this, the idea was that the man in bear costume would impregnate the young women of the village, and once that function has been accomplished, he is “stripped of his wild attributes and allowed to become human again.”

Requesting UNESCO status

Over ten years ago, several local elected officials in the Pyrenees came up with the idea of trying to get the festival recognised status. First, they managed to register the festivals in the Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage in France, in 2014.

Eight years later, they finally achieved the crowning moment for their region – being listed in the UNESCO “intangible world heritage list.”

For the inhabitants of the three French villages, UNESCO recognising their festival has given “a boost of life” and “a boost of importance,” one village resident told Franceinfo

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