Jean-Baptiste Desbois, La Cité de l’Espace: “We feel the impatience of visitors” – ToulÉco

Jean Baptiste Desbois, the Cité de l’Espace and the Flight of the Pioneers reopen this week. Under what conditions?

Until June 8, we start with a first phase that is quite restrictive in terms of gauge (35% of normal attendance, one person per 8 square meters) but which allows us to start again. From June 9, a second, slightly more flexible stage opens, and from June 30, we should switch to the ordinary schedules and gauges, but maintaining the wearing of the mask and the sanitary protocol (freezing, distancing ). In May, the Cité de l’Espace will open all week. Monday to Friday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. On weekends and Whit Monday we will be on from 10 am to 6 pm. For L’Envol des Pionniers, it will be from Tuesday to Friday from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. and on weekends, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. All of our offers will be available (Imax, Planetarium, temporary and permanent exhibitions).

Will there be any other restrictions?

However, some elements will not be accessible to the public: the Soyuz capsule, which we enter individually, which would need to be cleaned between each visitor. La Coupole d’Astronomie will also be closed, as it is a fairly small place. We will try to keep as much entertainment as possible around our three main themes: Thomas Pesquet’s flight of course, the Moon and Mars. One of our next events will be the landing of the Chinese robot Zhurong on Martian soil. If all goes well, it will be concomitant with our reopening. A life-size replica of the robot has just arrived at the Cité. She joins the one we have from Perseverance which landed this winter on the Red Planet.

What do you think of this reopening schedule and the sanitary conditions imposed?

The main question for us was the question of gauges, because masks, gels, flow management, we were used to managing it. During the week, no worries about gauges, because we mainly have a school audience. We will have to drive more finely on weekends and for that, we ask the public as much as possible to buy the public their ticket in advance. Our main focus will be the Pentecost weekend. Because we don’t know how people will react: Will they or will they not go to work on Mondays this year? We already have a lot of phone calls, anyway. We feel impatience among visitors, the desire to come and see us.

Is the state’s economic support currently sufficient for a structure like yours?

Economic aid (exemption from social charges, European solidarity fund, etc., Editor’s note) has been extended this year, but they have been capped. We hit the ceiling at the end of April. At the beginning of May, we will no longer be covered. We escalated the subject to our trade union. Aid is stopped when it reopens, but we will still have partial activity, for example. The relaunch requires special means, because with the gauges, we will have less public and therefore less revenue. But also because the health protocol has a cost. For the moment, our semi-public company is drawing on its reserves, but is doing well. The activity will have to really pick up, even if I remain optimistic.

What is the Pioneer Flight program?

At L’Envol des Pionniers, our beautiful exhibition on the aviator writer Saint-Exupéry will continue. This is one of the exhibitions labeled by the Antoine de Saint-Exupéry Foundation for the 75th anniversary of the French edition of the Little Prince. It will continue throughout 2021. We are in the process of finalizing the negotiations so that it will still be there for a large part of the year 2022. The sculptures of Arnaud Nazare-Aga, inspired by the universe of Little Prince will be visible at least until the end of this year 2021.

L’Envol has also just won the Tourism and Handicap label. The Cité de l’Espace won it a long time ago. The visually impaired can, for example, touch works from the Saint-Exupéry exhibition and discover the universe of the author of the Little Prince in three dimensions.

At the Cité de l’Espace, what device is planned to monitor Thomas Pesquet’s mission?

Visitors will be able to follow the Alpha mission in a brand new space that we have just created at the Cité de l’Espace, which is called the Carré de l’Actualité. We set this up with the European Space Agency. In this control center, the public will be able to discover how Pesquet got into space, as well as live images from the international space station. There will also be a center dedicated to the experiments carried out on site. Thomas Pesquet is going to produce around a hundred, including twelve for France, prepared by the National Center for Space Studies (Cnes) and in particular by his teams in Toulouse. We will highlight some of them: on sleep, the control of the movement of materials by waves, or on the blob, an organism studied by Toulouse researcher Audrey Dussutour.

In the fall, we will also offer the Carré public activities to understand the work of selecting astronauts by the European Space Agency. ESA is subjecting candidates to a battery of tests until the fall of 2022.

Last week, you received the brand new president of Cnes. What does this visit represent?

Yes, we welcomed Philippe Baptiste with pleasure. We were very happy, because he came very soon after his appointment. It is a sign of recognition. At the Cité de l’Espace, we are a sounding board, a voice for the space industry towards schoolchildren and the general public. Cnes is one of the founding members of Cité de l’Espace and a shareholder in our semi-public company. And we design our exhibitions together, in concert.

Interview by Matthias Hardoy

On the photo of Une: Jean-Baptiste Desbois, director of the Cité de l’Espace et de l’Envol des Pionniers. Credits: Quentin Buttin – ToulÉco

Second photo: the replica of the Chinese robot rover Zhurong to be seen at the reopening of the Cité de l’Espace Credits: Cité de l’Espace

Third Photo: the Lunar module to be visited outdoors at the Cit de l’Espace. Credit: Laurent Garcia -City of Space

Last photo: the Monitoring area for Thomas Pesquet’s Alpha mission in the Carré de l’Actualité. Credit: M.Huynh – Cité de l’Espace

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