Barely returned to Earth, the French astronaut Thomas Pesquet is again in the air, at the controls of a humanitarian plane which took off on Wednesday for the Central African Republic from Le Bourget airport.
“I didn’t just want to give my image, or send messages of support, but to do something more,” said the European Space Agency astronaut during a press conference organized before take-off by the NGO Aviation without Borders.
Medicine delivery and medical evacuations
Thomas Pésquet, returned from his second mission aboard the International Space Station in November, uses his training as an airline pilot for this association, of which he is a sponsor.
Aviation sans Frontières delivers food and medicine and carries out medical evacuations for 120 NGOs and international organizations. “The plane makes it possible to get rid of rutted bush tracks and highway robbers”, bandits who attack motorists in Africa, says Jean-Yves Grosse, head of air operations for Aviation Sans Frontières.
A need of 1.5 million euros
The plane the astronaut is piloting, a brand new Cessna Grand Caravan, was ferried in February from Kansas, United States.
The Frenchman is one of the pilots in charge of bringing him to a safe port, even if the NGO did not specify whether he would go to the end of the journey. His exact route has also not been disclosed, for security reasons.
To replace its second aging device, the NGO still needs 1.5 million euros, which it seeks to raise thanks to its partners and donations.
Concern over space cooperation
Thomas Pesquet still needs a few flight hours to be fully qualified on the aircraft, of which he is therefore not the captain, and to be able to carry out missions in Bangui, in the Central African Republic, or in Bounia, in the Democratic Republic. Congo, the two countries where Aviation sans Frontières deploys its planes.
“I would love to go out on the pitch, because that’s really where I feel useful,” Thomas Pesquet told AFP shortly before his departure. Earlier, he had worried about the long-term consequences of the war in Ukraine on space cooperation with Russia.
“We can clearly see that we are not committing to the cooperation of tomorrow and, unfortunately, in space projects are developed in five, ten, 15 years, so the consequences of what is happening at the moment will be seen in a few years. They won’t be positive, that’s for sure, ”he regretted.