Astronaut Claudie Haigneré shot by Roberto Frankenberg in Paris, France

To mark the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s first space flight, FT Weekend set itself a challenge – to interview an astronaut from every one of the 38 countries on earth that has sent one of its citizens into space. No one has ever tried to do this before. It took took 12 weeks, with 17 writers using 11 languages.

This photo is of French astronaut Claudie Haigneré, who has been into space twice – once in 1996 and again in 2011. Claudie was the first Frenchwoman in space and the 53-year-old is now president of Paris’s Cité des Sciences museum. She recalls her visits to outer space:

“Through the porthole I watched the Earth turn while I listened to Callas singing Norma, in the silence of the night while my colleagues slept. I’d turned off the lights, and I only had the earth’s light. I saw day, night, the forest fires of Africa, the sunrise, the Moon growing. This was a moment of extraordinary joy.”

The feature is a fascinating in-depth look at these extraordinary people, featuring interviews with other members of the global space elite: Yang Liwei (China), Chris Hadfield (Canada), Abdul Ahad Momand (Afghanistan), Rodolfo Neri Vela (Mexico) and Jugderdemidiin Gurragchaa (Mongolia).

The FT Weekend team even sent questions to Paolo Nespoli, an Italian astronaut currently on the International Space Station. His recorded answers were, however, literally lost in space. The story ‘Houston, abbiamo una problema’ recounts how the team dealt with a somewhat flustered mission control.

As well as interactive online features and infographics covering the major events in space travel over the last 50 years, the special issue also features: Space medicine – what really happens to the human body in orbit; the anatomy of a space suit; and an exclusive photo story inside the Mars Space Lab.

So look out for this week’s FT Weekend magazine (in the UK) and go online (under the Arts & Life section) for more on the story.

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