From la Conquête Coloniale (the Colonial Conquest) to la Conquête Spatiale (the Space Conquest), la boucle semble desormais fermée (It has come full circle.)
Comment est-ce que cela est arrivé? (How did that happen?)
La course à l’espace (the Space Race) between the United States and the USSR lasted almost 30 ans (30 years), from 1957 to 1975, and reflected one of the many fronts of la guerre froide (the Cold War) opposing the two powers.
It is within this context that la France, under the leadership of le Général de Gaule, decided to emerge as a contender in this new developing field, and was in fact, chronologiquement, the third power, after the US and l’Union Soviétique, to enter la conquête de l’espace (space conquest.)
The French fusée (rocket) called “Diamant” (Diamond) was used in 1965 to launch the first French satellite named Astérix (it was first meant to be called “Zébulon“, after the famous “Manège Enchanté” which got its own “launch” around the same time, but the ever-jumpring big-mustached fictional character by the same name was eventually deemed too frivolous to lend his name to a spacecraft.)
The space base that was used for the Diamant fusée was located in the south of Algeria, near the city of Béchar, from a location called “Hammaguir”, which was initially constructed as a military base by the colonial General Lyautey (who, incidentally, may have inspired Marcel Proust‘s character, “baron de Charlus“, in his famous “À la recherche du temps perdu.”) The site of this military space base in Algeria is also not too distant from where were conducted, among other places in the Algerian desert, several French nuclear essays, such as the infamous Reggane experiments. The destructive effects of these tests unfortunately last until today, as witnessed by both local inhabitants and French soldiers who were serving back then:
But since Algeria regained its independence in 1962, following a seven-year hardly fought struggle, the French government was compelled a few years later to transfer its Algerian space base onto another colonial property, la Guyane française (French Guiana), precisely at Kourou.
When the Space Race between the US and the USSR came to an end in 1975, la France, l’Allemagne (Germany), and le Royaume-Unis (the UK) decided to join forces together in order to launch the first European space consortium, giving birth to the Ariane program, which was also established in Kourou, French Guiana. The Kourou site was particularly convenient for space launches, thanks to its proximity to l’équateur (the equator), situated at a distance of about 500 km. Two centuries ago, however, it provided another sort of “convenience.” Together with the neighboring Île du Diable (the Devil’s Island), Kourou was used as early as Napoléon III’s reign as une terre d’exil, where political dissidents and other “indésirables” and personnae non gratae were infamously expedited. The 1969 Steve McQueen-starring movie, Papillon, based on the autobiographie of French prisoner Henri Charrière, depicts a famous, particularly daring, and ultimately successful escape from l’Île du Diable.
Thousands of Algerians who were charged with activités anticoloniales throughout the occupation française were expelled to the French Guiana capital, Cayenne, thus losing forever all liens (links) with their home families and cultural roots. Several pieds noirs, namely the French who were born in colonial Algeria (1830-1962), were also forcibly sent into exile in French Guiana. As a side note, only linking Algeria, France, and French Guiana, here is an interesting excerpt from the French Guiana TV, “Télé Guyane“, of Nicolle Morand, author of the book “Algérienne, je suis”:
The ruins of the Kourou colonial prisons are still visible today, and stand not too far from where is now located le Centre Spatial Guyanais (Guiana Space Centre), which hosts the lanceur (launcher) Ariane 5, used to set satellites into their orbites géostationnaires (geostationary orbits), or other heavy space loads onto what is called orbites terrestres basses (low earth orbits.)
Today, Ariane 5 launches commercial as well as military satellites, as it is the case with the deployment of this series of satellites de renseignements (spy satellites) called “Helios“, probing the Afghanistan region with a ground resolution of about 30 cm.
One can therefore conclude that the French conquête coloniale (colonial conquest) has to a very large measure served the French conquête spatiale (space conquest.)
Today, conversely, it is the turn of the conquête spatiale to return the favor, by extending its state-of-the-art imaging technology services to the “new old” age of the conquête coloniale (the latter being conveniently “refashioned”, of course, in name and style, according to the latest ”goût du jour.“)