Jacques Blamont propounded in Le Chiffre et le Songe (1993) ("The Digit and the Dream") that science was pursued as well, if not mostly, to satisfy the princely will for power and domination.
Jacques-Emile Blamont was born in Paris, France, on 13 October 1926. He completed his PhD in science under the guidance of Alfred Kastler at Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris in 1956. He was a professor at the Paris University from 1957 to 1996. He was corresponding member of the French Science Academy since January 1972 and member since June 1979. Blamont still teaches as a professor at University of Paris-VI (Apr 00). He is as well Professeur émérite at University Pierre et Marie Curie.
Jacques Blamont directed in 1957 the first launches of the French Veronique rockets. He was instrumental in creating the French space agency, the French National Center for Space Studies or CNES (Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales). In 1962, at the creation of CNES, he was appointed technical director. In 1972 he became chief scientist and adviser to the director general of CNES.
The CNES was created by Charles de Gaulle for strategical reasons. "De Gaulle a vu le principal: les Américains pensent que l'essentiel de la défense repose sur l'espace, le space dominance, c'est vrai pour le militaire, l'économique et le culturel. Si l'Europe veut exister, nous devons être présent au cœur des activités spatiales."
Involved in atmospheric research, Blamont discovered the interstellar wind in 1970. He was the author of the first measurements of atmospheric temperature from 100 to 500 km. He made the first measurements of Einstein's general relativity red shift of the Sun. He discovered the hydrogen envelope of comets.
Blamont was a member of the Science Steering Groups on the NASA missions Voyager, Pioneer-Venus, and of the USSR balloon mission Vega to Venus and Halley's comet; and a prime investigator on the Soviet Union's Phobos mission. He was a major contributor to the Lunar mission Clementine by the US Department of Defence and, in 1994. He developed image data compression for this mission, multiplying the number of lunar images obtained by 7 (2 million images).
Among his honors are the NASA Medal for Exceptional Scientific Achievement, 1972, and Gagarin Medal of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR, 1985. He received the Spie prize for his space technology achievements. His book Le Chiffre et le Songe (1993) received the French Roberval Prize in 1993 (Prix Grand Public Roberval).
Works related to the European miracle:
1993: Le chiffre et le songe, histoire politique de la découverte, Odile Jacob, Paris, France.
Some biographical information.
The site of the French
The Spie Prize site.
Centre national d'études spatiales, 2 place Maurice Quentin, 75039 Paris Cedex 01, France.
My personal and subjective view of Blamont's contribution
to the Grand Question
Jacques Blamont correctly identified a part of one of the two pillars of scientific progress: the governmental support motivated by prestige and power. This is not so surprising, since he was involved in space projects. These were financed almost exclusively by governments for military and prestige objectives. The space conquest of the XXth century thus offers a lively example case for my rich states system theory of scientific progress.
However, Blamont did not go further and did not see the logical consequence of his thesis, i.e. that the advancement of science required a group of states in competition: a states system. For this reason, Blamont couldn't explain why the Roman government (a universal empire) was less supportive to science than the Hellenistic ones (they were in competition with each other).
Moreover, Jacques Blamont overlooked the other forces pushing science forward. There is a whole private side to the support to science: the crucial role of the merchant and entrepreneurial class, and the generic importance of wealth, which Blamont missed altogether. Lastly, governments themselves may support science&technology for reasons of economic competition against other countries.
Le Chiffre et le Songe ("The Digit and the Dream") is a treasure trove of details about the history of physics from the Hellenistic Greeks all the way up to the Newtonian revolution, not forgetting the Iberic Muslims. It is also a lively account of the great political and economic change which affected Europe in the XVth to XVIIIth century. It contains lurid descriptions of some of the most aghast workplaces in history, like the Spanish empire's Potosi silver mountain and the Hitlerian Germany's underground rocket plants with the aim to illustrate the "dark side" of progress, i.e. how far governments are able to go when it comes to maximizing their power.