Part 1 - My role in the Ariane programme
After the humiliating fiasco of Europa I and II and the aborted Europa III Programme, we wanted to demonstrate to the world that Europe was capable of making a launch vehicle fly and to assure its independent access to space.
In 1979, there was not yet a Launcher Directorate, and my boss, Raymond Orye, reported directly to the Director General Roy Gibson. We were responsible for the development of the Ariane launch vehicle, with the programme managed by CNES by agreement between ESA and CNES and carried out by European industry under contracts placed by CNES.
Within the framework of my role, I assisted at all technical reviews, technical committees, progress meetings between CNES and industry and major technical events, such as important tests and launches. And, of course, nothing was more important than the first launch of Ariane.
After only six years of work, the first flight vehicle arrived at the Centre Spatial Guyanais (CSG) launch site near Kourou on 1 October 1979. The launch campaign started immediately in view of a launch on 15 December.
On 9, 10 and 11 October, the first Flight Readiness Review (RAV – Revue d'Aptitude au Vol) of an Ariane launch vehicle was held. It took place in the premises of the CNES Launcher Directorate at Evry. The qualification status and quality of each piece of flight hardware, the flight programme and the launch facilities were reviewed.
At that occasion, I started to admire the talent and elegance of the French engineers when presenting sometimes complicated technical subjects in front of an important audience. At the end of the review, the launch and launch date – 15 December – were confirmed.
See Part 2 - Snakes, mosquitoes and 4Ls
For more information:
Interviews about Ariane with key figures of the European space programme can be found at ESA's Oral History web site. They are: Frédéric D'Allest, Michel Bignier, Peter Creola, Hubert Curien, Bernard Deloffre, Roy Gibson, Klaus Iserland, Guy Kramer, Raymond Orye and Yves Sillard.