December 7, 2021

‘Dune’ reaches space as astronaut celebrates Frank Herbert’s iconic sci-fi novel

The “Dune” franchise has at least one real-life spaceflyer who is so big a fan of the story that he brought a copy of the book to orbit.

French astronaut Thomas Pesquet somehow squeezed in a trade paperback amid the luggage his four-person crew carried on board the SpaceX Crew Dragon that launched the Crew-2 mission to space in April, he wrote in a tweet posted on Wednesday (Oct. 20).

“I read Dune as a teenager and took a copy with me to space,” Pesquet said on Twitter, along with a picture of himself browsing his copy in front of the Cupola window. (He may face some challenges finishing the book before returning in November, not only because spare time is limited in space, but because he was named space station commander Oct. 4.)

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Well aware that the new “Dune” movie will see its United States release on Friday (Oct. 22), Pesquet tagged the movie account with the following words from 250 miles (400 kilometers) above Earth: “I look at the dunes dotted around Earth and think the world Frank Herbert created could very well look like the Sahara dunes.”

Incidentally, the movie is already available in France, where it rolled out Sept. 15 during a staggered theatrical release (long delayed from an initial 2020 schedule due to the pandemic.) The director of “Dune,” Denis Villeneuve, is French-Canadian.

Pesquet also noted that he, like many other astronauts, enjoy sci-fi franchises. NASA astronaut Steve Swanson, for example, toted a complete DVD set of the “Firefly” television series and its theatrical spinoff to orbit during shuttle mission STS-117 in 2007, for permanent inclusion in the ISS library.

ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet shared an image of sand dunes in the Sahara desert as seen from the space station. (Image credit: NASA/ESA)

Star Trek” is another popular franchise often cited by astronauts. After learning of the famous actor Leonard Nimoy’s (Spock) death in 2015, for example, at least two orbiting astronauts found cameras and showed themselves donning “Star Trek” gear, or flashing the “Vulcan salute” that Nimoy popularized.

With “Dune” the franchise hitting the public’s attention once again (the last wide movie release was in 1984, when Pesquet was about six years old), Pesquet took the opportunity to showcase a real-life dune from orbit: the Grande Dune du Pilat in southwestern France. 

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Pesquet was born in Rouens (two hours northwest of Paris) and assuming the roads were similar a generation ago, it would have taken his family about seven or eight hours to drive to Pilat. Now, he is circling the Earth every 90 minutes while in command of a space station mission.

Showing off the real-life dune, which is roughly 1.8 miles (3 km) long, Pesquet wrote that the French people “are quite proud” of Pilat. In French, he added that the people of his country “are not being deprived,” because the dune is the largest in Europe.

French astronaut Thomas Pesquet shared an image of the Dune du Pilat in southwestern France. (Image credit: NASA/ESA)

As French publication Sud Ouest points out, Pesquet went over the same famous dune in May 2017, but focused more on geologic curiosity at the time. “Success! This is the highest sand dune in Europe. Yes in #France we measure sand dunes ;)” Pesquet joked at the time, in English. (His French tweet was more poetic: “Only the Atlantic beaches stop the pine front of the Landes forest,” referring to a forest very close by the famous dune.)

Though Villeneuve’s “Dune” is not yet released, it has already inspired reactions in many other types of media, including new limited release outfits in “Fortnite” (a game popular with young teenagers) and a comic book adaptation based on a 1999 story. The original novel written by American author Frank Herbert was released in 1965; Herbert also penned several sequels before his death in 1986.

Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.