An astronaut (from the Greek “astron” (meaning “star”) and “nautes” (meaning “sailor”) is a person who has been trained, equipped, and deployed as a commander or crew member aboard a spacecraft by a human spaceflight program. The terms are occasionally applied to everyone who flies into space, including scientists, politicians, journalists, and tourists, despite the fact that they are primarily reserved for professional space travelers.
The term “astronaut” technically refers to all human space travelers, regardless of nationality or allegiance; however, cosmonauts (from the Russian “kosmos” (космос), meaning “universe,” also borrowed from Greek) are commonly used to distinguish Russian or Soviet Union astronauts from American or otherwise NATO-oriented space travelers. Although its use is rather informal and its origin is uncertain, the term taikonaut (from the Mandarin “tàikng” (), meaning “space”) has risen in response to China’s and other East Asian nations’ relatively recent advancements in manned spaceflight.
Until 2002, governments, either the military or civilian space agencies, were the only ones who sponsored and educated astronauts. The suborbital launch of the privately funded SpaceShipOne in 2004 ushered in a new kind of astronaut: the commercial astronaut.
Table of Contents
- 1 Definition
- 2 Terminology
- 3 Milestones in space travel
- 4 Training
- 5 Health risks of space travel
- 6 Food and drink
- 7 Insignia
- 8 Deaths
Some focus on the point where the atmosphere becomes so thin that centrifugal force, rather than aerodynamic force, carries a significant portion of the weight of the flight object, while others focus on the point where the atmosphere becomes so thin that centrifugal force, rather than aerodynamic force, carries a significant portion of the weight of the flight object. Only flights that exceed the Kármán line at an altitude of 100 kilometers are recognized under the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) Sporting Code for astronautics (62 mi). Astronaut wings are awarded to professional, military, and commercial astronauts who travel above an altitude of 50 miles (80 kilometers) in the United States.
As of November 17, 2016, 552 persons from 36 countries had climbed to a height of 100 kilometers (62 miles), with 549 of them reaching low Earth orbit or beyond. Twenty-four of them have journeyed beyond low Earth orbit to lunar orbit, the lunar surface, or, in one case, a loop around the Moon. Jim Lovell, John Young, and Eugene Cernan were three of the 24 who did so twice.
According to the United States’ definition, 558 people have entered space at an altitude of more than 50 miles (80 kilometers) as of November 17, 2016. Only one of the eight X-15 pilots who reached an altitude of more than 50 miles (80 kilometers) exceeded 100 kilometers (about 62 miles). Over 41,790 man-days (114.5 man-years) have been spent in space, with over 100 astronaut-days of spacewalks. Gennady Padalka, who has spent 879 days in space, is the man with the greatest total time in space as of 2016. Peggy A. Whitson, with 377 days in space, holds the record for the longest time spent in space by a woman.
NASA Administrator T. Keith Glennan and his Deputy Administrator, Hugh Dryden, debated whether spacecraft crew members should be named astronauts or cosmonauts in 1959, when both the United States and the Soviet Union were planning, but had yet to launch humans into space. Dryden chose “cosmonaut” because flights would take place in and to the larger cosmos, but the “astro” prefix emphasized flight to the stars specifically. The term “astronaut” was favored by the majority of NASA Space Task Group members, and it has remained in popular usage as the preferred American term. When the Soviet Union sent Yuri Gagarin, the first man into space, in 1961, they chose a name that translates to “cosmonaut.”
An astronaut is a professional space traveler. Neil R. Jones’ short fiction “The Death’s Head Meteor” from 1930 is the first documented use of the term “astronaut” in the contemporary sense. The term “astronaut” has previously been used to allude to a spacecraft in Percy Greg’s 1880 book Across the Zodiac. The term astronautique (astronautic) was used in J.-H. Rosny aîné’s novel Les Navigateurs de l’Infini (1925). The term “aeronaut” may have been influenced by an older name for an air traveler, “aeronaut,” which was originally applied to balloonists in 1784. Eric Frank Russell’s poem “The Astronaut,” published in the British Interplanetary Society’s Bulletin in November 1934, is an early use of “astronaut” in a non-fiction publication.
The foundation of the annual International Astronautical Congress in 1950, and the subsequent foundation of the International Astronautical Federation the following year, is the first documented formal use of the term astronautics in the scientific community.
Any crew member aboard a NASA spacecraft heading for Earth orbit or beyond is referred to as an astronaut by NASA. The word is also applied to people chosen to join NASA’s Astronaut Corps. Members of the European Space Agency’s Astronaut Corps are also referred to as astronauts.
In English writings, an astronaut working for the Russian Federal Space Agency (or its Soviet predecessor) is referred to as a cosmonaut. The word kosmonavt (Russian: космонaвт, Russian pronunciation: [ksmnaft]) is an Anglicization of kosmonavt (Russian: космонaвт, Russian pronunciation: [ksmnaft]). Other former Eastern Bloc countries, such as Poland, employ variants of the Russian kosmonavt, such as kosmonauta (although Polish also uses astronauta, and the two words are considered synonyms).
Mikhail Tikhonravov (1900–1974), a Soviet aeronautics (or “cosmonautics”) pioneer, is credited with coining the phrase космонавт. Yuri Gagarin, a Soviet Air Force pilot who was also the first person in space, was the first cosmonaut. In January 1961, he was one of the first six Russians to be given the title of pilot-cosmonaut, alongside German Titov, Yevgeny Khrunov, Andriyan Nikolayev, Pavel Popovich, and Grigoriy Nelyubov. With a solo trip on the Vostok 6 in 1963, Valentina Tereshkova became the first female cosmonaut and the first and youngest woman to fly in space. Norman Thagard became the first American to travel to space aboard a Russian launch vehicle on March 14, 1995, and thus the first “American astronaut.”
In Chinese, astronauts and cosmonauts are referred to as Y háng yuán (, “Space-universe navigating individuals”), whereas Chinese astronauts are referred to as hángtin yuán (, “navigating outer space personnel”). In this context, hángtin () refers to the navigation of outer space within the local star system, i.e. the solar system. In Hong Kong and Taiwan, the word tài kng rén (, “spaceman”) is frequently used.
Some English-language news sources refer to professional space explorers from China as taikonauts. The term was popularized in 2003, when China flew its first astronaut Yang Liwei into space on the Shenzhou 5 spacecraft, and it was included in the Longman and Oxford English dictionaries. Since the beginning of the Chinese space program, Xinhua News Agency has used this term in the English version of the Chinese People’s Daily. The term’s origin is unknown; Chiew Lee Yih () from Malaysia used it in newsgroups as early as May 1998.
ESA plans to recruit an astronaut with a physical disability, dubbed “parastronauts,” for its 2022 Astronaut Group, with the goal of spaceflight but no assurance. Individuals with lower limb deficiency (either due to amputation or congenital), leg length discrepancy, or small stature were all considered for the program (less than 130 centimetres or 4 feet 3 inches).
With the rise of space tourism, NASA and the Russian Federal Space Agency agreed to use the phrase “spaceflight participant” to distinguish space tourists from professional astronauts on NASA-led missions.
While no country has launched a crewed spacecraft other than Russia (and earlier the Soviet Union), the United States, and China, several other countries have sent people into space in collaboration with one of these countries, such as the Soviet-led Interkosmos program. Other synonyms for astronaut have entered infrequent English language, partly as a result of these missions. For instance, the term spationaut (French: spationaute) is sometimes used to describe French space travelers, derived from the Latin word spatium, which means “space”; the Malay term angkasawan (derived from angkasa, which means “space”) was used to describe participants in the Angkasawan program (note the similarity with the Indonesian term antariksawan); and the Indian Space Research Organisation hope to launch a spher Timothy Kopra, a Finnish-American NASA astronaut, has been referred to in Finland as sisunautti, from the Finnish term sisu. “Astronaut” is used in connection with locally developed words such as German Raumfahrer, Dutch ruimtevaarder, Swedish rymdfarare, and Norwegian romfarer across Germanic languages.
In the United States, astronaut status will be conferred to a person based on the authorized agency as of 2020:
- An astronaut is a person who works for NASA or the military who flies in a vehicle with a range of more than 50 miles (80 kilometers) (with no qualifier)
- A spaceflight participant is someone who takes part in a voyage to the International Space Station that is co-ordinated by NASA and Roscosmos.
- The Federal Aviation Administration considers a commercial astronaut anyone who flies over 50 miles (80 kilometers) in a non-NASA vehicle as a crewmember.
- NASA considers a private astronaut someone who travels to the International Space Station as part of a “privately funded, dedicated commercial spaceflight on a commercial launch vehicle dedicated to the mission… to conduct approved commercial and marketing activities on the space station (or in a commercial segment attached to the station)” (as of 2020, nobody has yet qualified for this status)
- A space tourist is an unofficial name for a paid non-crew passenger who travels over 50 miles (80 kilometers) in a private non-NASA or military vehicle (as of 2020, nobody has yet qualified for this status)
Milestones in space travel
Yuri Gagarin, the first human in space, was launched onboard the Vostok 1 spacecraft on April 12, 1961, and orbited the Earth for 108 minutes. Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space, launched on Vostok 6 on June 16, 1963, and orbited Earth for over three days.
On 5 May 1961, Alan Shepard became the first American and the second person in space during a 15-minute sub-orbital mission aboard Freedom 7. John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth on Friendship 7 on February 20, 1962. Sally Ride became the first American woman in space on the Space Shuttle Challenger’s STS-7 mission on June 18, 1983. On STS-47 in 1992, Mae Jemison became the first African-American woman to journey into space.
On the Soviet Union’s Voskhod 2 mission on March 18, 1965, cosmonaut Alexei Leonov became the first person to do an extravehicular activity (EVA), also known as a “spacewalk.” Two and a half months later, on NASA’s Gemini 4 mission, astronaut Ed White performed the first American EVA.
In 1968, the first crewed mission to orbit the Moon, Apollo 8, included an American named William Anders, who was born in Hong Kong and therefore became the first Asian-born astronaut.
With the significant exceptions of France and Austria participating in Soyuz TM-7 and Soyuz TM-13, the Soviet Union’s Intercosmos program enabled persons from other “communist” (i.e. Warsaw Pact and other Soviet-allied) countries to fly on its flights. Vladimr Remek of Czechoslovakia, the first cosmonaut from a country other than the Soviet Union or the United States, traveled to space on a Soyuz-U rocket in 1978. Rakesh Sharma made history by being the first Indian to travel to space. On April 2, 1984, he was launched onboard the Soyuz T-11 spacecraft.
Pham Tuan of Vietnam became the first Asian in space when he went on Soyuz 37 on July 23, 1980. Arnaldo Tamayo Méndez, a Cuban, became the first person of Hispanic and black African origin to fly in space in 1980, and Guion Bluford, an African American, became the first African American to fly in space in 1983. Taylor Wang became the first ethnic Chinese person in space in April 1985. Patrick Baudry (France) became the first African to fly in space in 1985. Prince Sultan Bin Salman Bin AbdulAziz Al-Saud of Saudi Arabia became the first Arab Muslim astronaut in space in 1985. Abdul Ahad Mohmand, the first Afghan in space, spent nine days aboard the Mir space station in 1988.
With more seats on the Space Shuttle, the United States began to accept international astronauts. Ulf Merbold of West Germany was the first non-American to fly in a US spacecraft in 1983. Marc Garneau was the first of eight Canadian astronauts to fly into space in 1984. (through 2010). Rodolfo Neri Vela was the first Mexican-born person in space in 1985. Helen Sharman became the first British woman to fly into space in 1991. Mark Shuttleworth became the first African person to go in space as a paid spaceflight participant in 2002. Ilan Ramon was the first Israeli to fly into space in 2003, but he died in a re-entry mishap.
Yang Liwei became China’s first astronaut on the Shenzhou 5 spacecraft on October 15, 2003.
Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken became the first astronauts to launch on Crew Dragon, a private crewed spaceship, on May 30, 2020.
Milestones in Age
Gherman Titov, the youngest person to fly in space, was 25 years old when he flew Vostok 2. (In addition, Titov was the first person to experience space sickness.) John Glenn, who was 77 at the time of his flight on STS-95, was the oldest person to fly in space.
Milestones for time and distance
Valeri Polyakov of Russia holds the record for the longest duration spent in space at 438 days.
Jerry L. Ross and Franklin Chang-Diaz both hold the record for the most spaceflights by an individual astronaut, with seven. When Jim Lovell, Jack Swigert, and Fred Haise travelled around the Moon during the Apollo 13 emergency, they traveled 401,056 kilometers (249,205 miles) from Earth.
Milestones for civilians and non-government organizations
Valentina Tereshkova, the first civilian in space, was aboard the Vostok 6 spacecraft (she also became the first woman in space on that mission).
Tereshkova was only given honorary membership in the Soviet Air Force, which at the time did not accept female pilots. When his X-15 Flight 90 crossed the 100-kilometer (54-nautical-mile) line a month later, Joseph Albert Walker became the first American citizen in space, according to the international definition of spaceflight. Walker had enlisted in the United States Army Air Forces, although he was not a member at the time of his flight. Both Konstantin Feoktistov and Boris Yegorov aboard Voskhod 1 were the first persons in space who had never served in the military of any country.
Byron K. Lichtenberg, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology researcher who went on STS-9 in 1983, was the first non-government space passenger. Toyohiro Akiyama became the first paying space traveler and the first journalist in space for Tokyo Broadcasting System in December 1990, during a visit to Mir as part of a $12 million (USD) arrangement with a Japanese TV station, albeit he was referred to as a “Research Cosmonaut” at the time. During his expedition, Akiyama suffered from acute space sickness, which hampered his productivity.
Dennis Tito became the first self-funded space tourist on board the Russian spacecraft Soyuz TM-3 on April 28, 2001.
Travelers who are self-funded
Mike Melvill, a test pilot for Scaled Composites and not a paying space tourist, was the first person to fly on an entirely privately sponsored mission, piloting SpaceShipOne flight 15P on a suborbital excursion. Seven others have paid to fly into orbit with the Russian Space Agency:
- 28 April – 6 May 2001: Dennis Tito (American) (ISS)
- South African Mark Shuttleworth (25 April – 5 May 2002) (ISS)
- 1–11 October 2005: Gregory Olsen (American) (ISS)
- 18–29 September 2006: Anousheh Ansari (Iranian/American) (ISS)
- 7–21 April 2007 (ISS), 26 March–8 April 2009 (ISS), Charles Simonyi (Hungarian/American) (ISS)
- Richard Garriott (American/British): October 12–24, 2008. (ISS)
- Guy Laliberté (Canadian): September 30th until October 11th, 2009. (ISS)
In 1959, the first NASA astronauts were chosen for training. Although neither John Glenn nor Scott Carpenter (of the Mercury Seven) had any university degree, in engineering or any other subject, at the time of their selection, military jet test piloting and engineering training were frequently mentioned as qualifications for selection as an astronaut at NASA. Initially, only military pilots were considered. Both the US and the USSR’s first astronauts were jet fighter pilots, and many of them were test pilots.
After being selected, NASA astronauts undergo a twenty-month training program in a number of fields, including extravehicular activity training at NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory. Astronaut candidates may also be able to experience brief periods of weightlessness (microgravity) on a plane known as the “Vomit Comet,” which consists of two modified KC-135s (retired in 2000 and 2004, respectively, and replaced in 2005 with a C-9) that perform parabolic flights. Astronauts must also complete a certain amount of hours on a high-performance jet aircraft. Because of its proximity to the Johnson Space Center, this is usually done in T-38 jet aircraft out of Ellington Field. The Shuttle Training Aircraft is also maintained and developed at Ellington Field, while most flights are conducted from Edwards Air Force Base.
Astronauts in training must learn to manage and fly the Space Shuttle, and they must be familiar with the International Space Station in order to know what they must do once they arrive.
NASA’s eligibility requirements
- The applicant must be a United States citizen.
- A master’s degree in a STEM discipline, such as engineering, biological science, physical science, computer science, or mathematics, is required.
- After earning a bachelor’s degree, the candidate must have at least two years of related professional experience or 1,000 hours of pilot-in-command time on a jet aircraft.
- The candidate must be able to pass the NASA astronaut physical for long-duration flight.
- Leadership, teamwork, and communication abilities are also required.
The master’s degree requirement can be accomplished in a variety of ways, including:
- Work toward a PhD degree in a related science, technology, engineering, or math subject for two years.
- A Doctor of Medicine or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine degree must be completed.
- A nationally renowned test pilot school program has been completed.
- Applicants must hold a bachelor’s degree and have teaching experience ranging from kindergarten to twelfth grade. Although an advanced degree, such as a master’s or doctoral degree, is not required, it is highly desirable.
As of 2007, there are three NASA Educator astronauts: Joseph M. Acaba, Richard R. Arnold, and Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger. Barbara Morgan, who was chosen as Christa McAuliffe’s back-up instructor in 1985, is widely regarded as the first Educator astronaut, however she actually trained as a mission specialist. The Educator Astronaut program is a follow-up to the 1980s’ Teacher in Space initiative.
Health risks of space travel
Decompression sickness, barotrauma, immunodeficiencies, bone and muscle loss, loss of vision, orthostatic intolerance, sleep disorders, and radiation harm are among the health concerns faced by astronauts. To address these concerns, the National Space Biomedical Research Institute (NSBRI) is conducting a number of large-scale medical investigations in space. The Advanced Diagnostic Ultrasound in Microgravity Study is one of the most well-known of these, in which astronauts (including former ISS commanders Leroy Chiao and Gennady Padalka) perform ultrasound scans in space under the supervision of remote experts in order to diagnose and potentially treat hundreds of medical conditions. The procedures developed in this study are now being used in professional and Olympic sports injuries, as well as ultrasound performed by non-expert operators in medical and high school students. Remote guided ultrasound is expected to be useful on Earth in emergency and rural care circumstances, where access to a skilled physician is typically limited.
Salmonella typhimurium, a bacteria that can cause food poisoning, became more dangerous when grown in space, according to a 2006 Space Shuttle experiment. Bacteria were discovered to be more resistant to medications and to survive in the near-weightlessness of space in 2017. It has been discovered that microorganisms can survive in the vacuum of space.
A NASA-funded study published on December 31, 2012, found that human spaceflight may injure the brain and hasten the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
The NASA Office of Inspector General released a health hazards assessment on space exploration, including a human mission to Mars, in October 2015.
NASA’s flight surgeons and scientists have noticed a pattern of eyesight impairments among astronauts on long-duration space missions during the last decade. After extensive periods spent aboard the International Space Station, the syndrome known as visual impairment intracranial pressure (VIIP) has been recorded in nearly two-thirds of space explorers (ISS).
Based on MRI tests, scientists discovered significant changes in the position and structure of the brain in astronauts who have traveled to space on November 2, 2017. Longer space missions were linked to more brain abnormalities in astronauts.
Being in space can decondition the body biologically. It has the potential to impact the otolith organs as well as the central nervous system’s adaptive capacity. For astronauts, zero gravity and cosmic radiation can have a variety of consequences.
NASA-funded researchers discovered in October 2018 that long trips into space, including trips to Mars, can cause significant harm to humans’ gastrointestinal tissues. The findings back up previous research that suggested lengthy flights can harm astronauts’ brains and cause them to age prematurely.
Following the discovery of five Enterobacter bugandensis bacterial strains on the International Space Station (ISS), none of which are pathogenic to humans, researchers reported in 2018 that microorganisms on the ISS should be closely monitored in order to maintain a medically safe environment for astronauts.
According to a study published in April 2019 by Russian experts, astronauts exposed to space radiation may have transient memory impairment. While this has no effect on their intellectual ability, it does temporarily prevent the creation of new cells in the memory centers of the brain. The Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology (MIPT) came to this conclusion after seeing that mice exposed to neutron and gamma radiation had no effect on their cognitive ability.
Protracted-duration spaceflight generates several physiological adaptations, including macro- and microstructural changes, according to a 2020 study conducted on the brains of eight male Russian cosmonauts after they returned from long stints aboard the International Space Station. While scientists are currently learning more about the impacts of space travel on brain structure, this study found that space travel can result in new motor capabilities (dexterity) as well as slightly worse vision, both of which could be long-term repercussions. It was the first study to show that sensorimotor neuroplasticity, or the ability of the brain to change through development and reorganization, exists.
Food and drink
Every day, an astronaut aboard the International Space Station consumes roughly 830 g (29 oz) of food (inclusive of about 120 g or 4.2 oz packaging mass per meal).
Astronauts on the Space Shuttle collaborated with nutritionists to create diets that suited their specific preferences. The shuttle dietitian chose food and studied nutritional content five months before the journey. Foods are tested in a lower gravity environment to determine how they would react. A baseline energy expenditure (BEE) calculation is used to calculate calorie requirements. Every day, the average American consumes approximately 35 US gallons (130 L) of water. The astronauts on board the International Space Station (ISS) utilize just approximately three US gallons (11 L) of water every day.
After completing their missions, cosmonauts in Russia are awarded the title of Pilot-Cosmonaut of the Russian Federation, which is frequently followed with the title of Hero of the Russian Federation. This is similar to the Soviet Union’s practice of bestowing the title of Hero of the Soviet Union on cosmonauts.
Those who successfully complete astronaut candidate training at NASA are awarded a silver lapel pin. They are given a gold pin once they have flown in space. After participating in a spaceflight, US astronauts with active-duty military status get the Astronaut Badge, a specific qualifying badge. The United States Air Force also awards an Astronaut Badge to pilots who fly higher than 50 miles (80 kilometers).
Eighteen astronauts (fourteen men and four women) have died in four space missions as of 2020. Thirteen were Americans (one of whom was born in India), four were Russians (from the Soviet Union), and one was Israeli.
As of 2020, eleven persons (all men) have died in spaceflight training: eight Americans and three Russians. Six were killed in training jet plane crashes, one drowned during water recovery training, and four were killed in pure oxygen conditions due to fires.
During his 1971 Apollo 15 mission, astronaut David Scott placed a memorial consisting of a statuette labeled Fallen Astronaut on the Moon’s surface, along with a list of the names of eight astronauts and six cosmonauts believed to have died in duty at the time.
The Astronauts Memorial Foundation maintains the Space Mirror Memorial, which is located on the grounds of the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex and honors the lives of the men and women who have perished while participating in the United States’ space programs. The memorial features the names of an X-15 test pilot, a US Air Force officer who died while preparing for a then-classified military space program, and a civilian spaceflight participant, in addition to twenty NASA career astronauts.
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