French rugby team Stade Toulousain unveiled its shirt for the European Rugby Champions Cup 2020-21 this week, with a tribute to Proxima, ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet’s first mission to the International Space Station.
The shirt highlights the stars that Stade Toulousain is allowed to wear after winning previous championships, as well as Proxima Centauri, the closest star to our Sun and the inspiration behind the name of the mission that saw Thomas Pesquet spend six months in space in 2016. Thomas contributed to the design of the shirt in collaboration with the team.
The shirt worn by Stade Toulousain players for the European Rugby Champions Cup matches this season, will be available to fans but will also be available as a special box set limited in quantity to 196, the same number of days Thomas spent in space. The ESA logo features in the club’s insignia that all players will wear during all European Champions Cup matches.
The partnership between ESA and Stade Toulousain aims to bring awareness of spaceflight and research in space to rugby fans, as well as highlighting the reliance on teamwork and dedication, qualities that human spaceflight and rugby at international level have in common.
Thomas Pesquet said, “The shirt is scattered with references to space technology, spacesuits, spacecraft and to ESA’s Proxima mission. The shirt means a lot to me because the players will wear it on their continuing journey to further excellence and more victories that started in 1996. It is a testament to my space trip, and now I hand it over to the squad, my humble contribution to the Stade’s European mission: conquering the stars again!”
Both Thomas and Stade Toulousain are aiming for the stars in 2021, with Thomas returning to the Space Station on his second mission, named Alpha. Stade Toulousain hopes to achieve a fourth star by winning the European championships.
Toulouse head coach Ugo Mola says, “Having ESA on our shirts brings excellence and awareness, mandatory values for astronauts who regularly reach for the limits of what is possible. This is where we share common ground, in training to achieve excellence, where Thomas has proven to be an athlete of the highest level.”
Toulouse is a ‘space city’, being a major centre for Airbus, and also the French space agency CNES, which is already applying space technology to help train the Stade Toulousain players. Thomas studied aerospace there and worked in the city, which is when he became a fan of the club. Toulouse was also home to the operations control centre for ESA’s five Space Station cargo spacecraft, the Automated Transfer Vehicles.