Space woman in new orbit

June 21, 2002

French premier Jean-Pierre Raffarin has enlisted a female former astronaut as minister for research and new technologies in his new government.

Claudie Haigneré, 45, has been on board two space missions with the Russians, Cassiopee in August 1996 and Andromede in October 2001. In July 1999, she was the first woman to qualify as a Soyuz return commander responsible for the three-person Soyuz capsule during a re-entry from space, and in October 2001 was the first European woman to visit the International Space Station.

She was selected as a candidate astronaut by the French space agency in 1985, and played a prominent role in the development of scientific applications of manned spaceflight and in fostering scientific relations with Russia.

ESA director general Antonio Rodota hailed her "outstanding capabilities as a scientist as well as an astronaut" and said she was in a key position to shape the future of Europe's science.

Philosopher Luc Ferry will continue as minister for youth, education and research. With the departure of the interim minister for higher education and research, Francois Loos, Mr Ferry assumes full responsibility for higher education, and has promised continuity among previous policies.

Mr Ferry has assured university presidents there will be no ruptures in policies, notably in the reforms universities are introducing to fit in with the European arena of higher education. In the Bologna Declaration of 1999, European education ministers agreed to build a common higher education system by 2010. At last year's follow-up in Prague, ministers voted to further the process.

Universities are drawing up plans for new diplomas fitting the European model known as 3-5-8 and based on the European credit transfer system.

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