A Wet Tradition Returns to European Launch Facility

Ariane 5 Rocket Successfully Orbits Satellite Pair
The successful launch of Flight 168, an Ariane 5G with a double payload, took place on Thursday 13 October 2005 from Europe's Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana (early Friday morning 14 October 2005 CEST) (Image credit: ESA/CNES/ARIANESPACE/SOV)

KOUROU,French Guiana -- A tradition once thought relegated to the space industry'sadventuresome past was revived with gusto late Oct. 13 when French militaryofficials decided that everyone involved in the launch of the Syracuse 3telecommunications satellite would be thrown, fully clothed, into the poolduring a post-launch dinner.

The sightof satellite manufacturing officials and arms-procurement agency managers --even a rear admiral -- being carried from their dinner tables and tossed intothe water regardless of what they thought of the idea was one of the morememorable events of the evening following the successful launch of the Frenchmilitary telecommunications satellite and PanAmSat's Galaxy 15 cable-televisionbroadcast spacecraft.

As the intentionsof a group of uniformed French military officials became clear, prospectivetargets hurriedly shed glasses and wallets before being carted off and hurledinto the water. Only the lucky ones were able to remove their shoes in time.

AlcatelAlenia Space President Pascale Sourisse, whose straight-laced manner is one ofher signature traits, had dismissed the idea that she might be one of the victims,saying Alcatel Alenia -- which built the Syracuse 3A satellite -- was here onbehalf of its customer, the French arms procurement agency (DGA). Judging fromthe way she was dressed, Sourisse did not appear to think the pool-toss frenzywould reach all the way to her.

But it did.Francois Fayard, head of DGA's space division -- dripping wet in his uniform --apparently made Sourisse an offer she could not refuse. Soon enough she was inthe drink, alongside her customer, Fayard.

Oneofficial said the move was the kind of customer-relations initiative thatcannot be purchased. The DGA contract with Alcatel Alenia for the constructionand launch of up to three Syracuse 3 satellites -- the third has yet to beordered -- is valued at up to 1.4 billion euros ($1.7 billion).

Alcatel isalso a principal subcontractor to Thales Group of France for the Syracuse 3ground network, including some 600 communications terminals for the French armyand navy.

Thepool-tossing of customers of the Arianespace commercial launch consortium was arespected ritual following successful launches at Europe's Guiana Space Centerhere in the 1980s and early 1990s. But it all but disappeared as the launchesbecame more business-like affairs.

Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at: community@space.com.

Charles Q. Choi
Contributing Writer

Charles Q. Choi is a contributing writer for Space.com and Live Science. He covers all things human origins and astronomy as well as physics, animals and general science topics. Charles has a Master of Arts degree from the University of Missouri-Columbia, School of Journalism and a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of South Florida. Charles has visited every continent on Earth, drinking rancid yak butter tea in Lhasa, snorkeling with sea lions in the Galapagos and even climbing an iceberg in Antarctica. Visit him at http://www.sciwriter.us