Who was Alexandre Ananoff?

Alexandre Ananoff was born on April 7, 1910, in Tbilisi, Georgia. Alexandre’s father, Mihran Ananoff, was an important producer of wood, wines and alcohol such as “Champagne” or “Cognac”. Just before the First World War, the country’s situation was not stable. This situation became even worse with the war and the October Revolution of 1917. Mihran Ananoff then decided to leave the country with his wife and son.

In 1921, the family came to finally settle in Paris. They first lived off of the money they had saved in Georgia. After a few years Mihran Ananoff had to do small jobs and the family was forced to move several times, each time to a place with a lower rental fee. Naturalized French, Alexandre Ananoff quickly learned and mastered the French language. Alexandre Ananoff first discovered astronomy, at the age of seventeen: “Nothing drove me especially to the sciences” he explained. “Jules Verne just interested me, no more, as any child. Camille Flammarion’s works led me to astronomy”.

Ananoff then tried to learn more and to master technical domains, such as mathematics and cosmography. He read, inquired and even took lessons. The young man joined the Société Astronomique de France (SAF) and frequented its library. One day, he stumbled upon a work by Konstantin Tsiolkovsky. It was a revelation, as Ananoff said: “Luck put me in the presence of a book by Tsiolkovsky and reading it awakened in me the desire to be useful to the cause that is now mine”.

At that moment, Alexandre Ananoff had become an “Astronaut”, that is to say, one of those who “before Gagarin, worked to lay the foundations of space travel or effectively contributed to its growth”. His task was as follows: “To alert the public to interplanetary travel, bring competent people to take an interest in them; complete the building of Astronautics with the addition of new knowledge, and provide the most from France, against its will if necessary, a French Astronautics, solely that it might in the future play a role among other nations”.

On June 8, 1927, Alexandre Ananoff attended the famous lecture of Robert Esnault-Pelterie at the University of La Sorbonne called L’Exploration par fusées de la très haute atmosphère et la possibilité des voyages interplanétaires. He learned about the existence of German work on rockets, including Hermann Oberth, and saw his passion grow. For many years, Ananoff tried to meet Esnault-Pelterie. He finally managed to have an appointment with the French specialist at his office in Boulogne-sur-Seine on September 20, 1936.

Ananoff started collecting “everything near and far related to rocket, jet and interplanetary travel, even cartoons, which appeared from time to time in the general press”. But his “best documentation” would come to be the correspondence, exchange of documents and books with a multitude of specialists in astronautics worldwide. Between 1931 and 1936, the young man increased his participation in astronautics within the Société Astronomique de France. His enthusiasm and personal investment were regularly found in the activity reports of the French SAF.

In 1933, Alexandre Ananoff planned to publish the proceedings of his conferences but he struggled to find funding. During an internship in Larousse’s factory in Montrouge, he printed for himself his first text, entitled Le Grand problème des voyages interplanétaires, thanks to permission he received from Jacques Moreau, head printer. At the end of 1936, Alexandre Ananoff’s reputation was growing. The director of the Palais de la Découverte in Paris, Andre Léveillé, asked him to contribute to the first “Astronautics Exhibition” to be opened in July 1937, during the Universal Exhibition of Paris of the “Arts and techniques of modern life”.

In 1938, Alexandre Ananoff wanted to create a section in astronautics within the Société Astronomique de France. He received the support of André Hirsch and Ms. Flammarion for monthly meetings. After the Liberation and the end of the War, Alexandre Ananoff wanted to continue to promote astronautics and so he re-contacted the French SAF. In June 1945, the French chemist Henri Moureu was working on the German V2 and recovered some debris from missiles that fell near Paris in late 1944. Recognizing the revolutionary aspects of the V2 engine, Moureu planned to create an organization that would work on the development of rockets of the same type, the CEPA. He started to meet all known individuals in France with knowledge concerning rocket engines and contacted Alexandre Ananoff.

In January 1947, Alexandre Ananoff was again contacted by the curator of Le Palais de la Découverte with a request to prepare, together with Henri Mineur (the director of the Institut d’Astrophysique), an “Astronautics Department” on the theme of astronautical navigation. Alexandre Ananoff nevertheless published several articles and gave five lectures in the late 1940s. Some character portraits of the Astronaut were also made in the press.

The decision to hold the first European Astronautical Congress (IAC) in Paris was definitively established on February 16, 1950, after agreement with the British. The following month, the project took an international dimension (as Alexandre Ananoff had always imagined), in order to welcome American participation. This was the most important step in the life of the French Astronaut. Without any help from the secretariat of the Aéronautique Club de France or from any research organization, Alexandre Ananoff was obliged to personally maintain correspondence with foreign countries, to organize the reception of delegates and to establish the program, in his spare time and with his own finances. Feeling quite alone, he even considered for a moment postponing the event to 1951.

More than twenty years after the death of Alexandre Ananoff, it appears that the memory of his significant contributions to space exploration is still to be restored. The founder of the first IAC deserves an actual place in the Pantheon of astronautical history as a tireless pioneer for space education for three decades of his life, writing articles and books, organizing and giving lectures, participating in radio and TV debates, and even making audio records and space drawings: using all the existing media of his time, Alexandre Ananoff was actually one of the first “multimedia” promoters for astronautics.