What was the geopolitical context when you took up your post as CNES’s representative in the United States?
Bernard Luciani: I arrived in Washington on 20 August 1991, the day of the attempted coup in Moscow against Mikhail Gorbachev heralding the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union and the beginning of the new post-Cold War era. In space, this was marked by the decision to bring the Russians on board the International Space Station (ISS), which hadn’t yet been launched, whereas it was originally a partnership between the Americans and their European, Canadian and Japanese allies. From that moment on, the ISS project really moved into higher gear to become what it is today, with its Russian segment. The other noteworthy factor was the new “faster, better, cheaper” space strategy advocated by NASA Administrator Dan Goldin.
The digital Internet revolution was still some way in the future, so it was quite an avant-garde approach at the time that would prefigure the agile mindset of New Space.
Nicolas Maubert: I took up my post in the summer of 2019 in a very different context. We’re now in the midst of a new golden age for space, the like of which hasn’t been seen since the Apollo programmes of the 1970s. Today, we’re seeing major foundational programmes, new players from the private sector and emerging nations, and a desire to foster international cooperation. Some 80 nations now have their own space agency, so it’s important for us to be present, maintain our existing partnerships and identify new ones. The other aspect of note is the all-pervading competition between the United States and China, and the emergence of two blocs between which we have to navigate by advocating a multilateralist position.
What does the mission as representative in the United States actually involve?
Bernard Luciani: I had the dual role of CNES representative and space attaché to the ambassador. The day-to-day missions haven’t changed: keeping track of US space policy and programmes, promoting French and European space activities, and fostering US-French cooperation through visits and exchanges, and networking with the space community. The intelligence side of things is very important, especially in the United States where the culture is more open and we have access to a lot of first-hand information. And then there’s the matter of projecting a positive image: in my time, very few agencies had a representative in Washington and our presence was a way of affirming the importance of cooperation for our country.
Nicolas Maubert: I also have that dual role, although the mission has become more diverse as the space sector has evolved. We’re still focused on science, technology, diplomacy and budget aspects, but other issues have taken on a lot of importance, like regulatory matters regarding space traffic or economic and financial stakes. The New Space ecosystem has also been a game-changer and we’re now called upon increasingly to assist French firms looking to gain a foothold in the US market where there’s enormous growth potential.
What kind of welcome did you receive as CNES’s representative?
Bernard Luciani: When I arrived, France had already been working with the United States for 30 years on human spaceflight, science and Earth-observation programmes. CNES was already a force to be reckoned with in space and a go-to partner with the human and technical resources to match its ambitions. So it didn’t take long for me to get up to speed.
Nicolas Maubert: That’s still the case today, and CNES has been a close partner of the United States since 1965. Last year was pretty exceptional in this regard, since France was involved in all the stand-out events marking the US space programme in 2021, with the arrival of the Perseverance rover on Mars, the flight of the Crew Dragon capsule to the ISS with Thomas Pesquet on board, and the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope.
This strong relationship of trust is being perpetuated this year with France’s turn presiding over the EU and the prospect of new partnerships.
Looking back, how do you view this American experience?
Bernard Luciani: From a personal and professional perspective, my four years were most enriching, giving me the opportunity to rub shoulders with high-level officials and so expand my horizons and way of thinking. I had to be able to work off my own bat quite a lot of the time, since you have to remember that we only had limited means of communication. In 1991, there was no Internet, no videoconferencing and no e-mail. When you were 6,000 kilometres from home in a different time zone, you soon learned to manage alone!
Nicolas Maubert: While my time in the United States isn’t over yet, I concur completely with that assessment. Being in the thick of what’s making the news in space, meeting exceptional people and dealing with a whole range of diplomatic, regulatory, economic and commercial issues is very stimulating! Seeing how dynamic things are here, it makes you want to pull out all the stops to help further France and Europe’s space efforts.
cnes around the world
To lend weight to its strategic international partnership efforts, CNES has eight space advisors in Brussels, Berlin, Washington D.C., Moscow, Tokyo, Bangalore, Abu Dhabi and Beijing. Working within France’s diplomatic network, they represent the agency locally and lead bilateral actions to further the nation’s space policy in close collaboration with the European and International Affairs team.
The conquest of space is a fabulous human adventure driven by passion. Our role today has changed and our role in the future is a new chapter to be written. So do science and technology and join us with your new ideas.>> READ MORE