AskDefine | Define astronaut

Dictionary Definition

astronaut n : a person trained to travel in a spacecraft; "the Russians called their astronauts cosmonauts" [syn: spaceman, cosmonaut]

User Contributed Dictionary

see Astronaut



Coined from Greek ἄστρον (ástron), star and ναύτης (naútēs), sailor


  • /ˈæstrəˌnɑt/ (Canada) or /ˈæstrəˌnɔːt/ (UK)
  • /"

Extensive Definition

An astronaut or cosmonaut ( ) is a person trained by a human spaceflight program to command, pilot, or serve as a crew member of a spacecraft.
While generally reserved for professional space travelers, the term is sometimes applied to anyone who travels into space, including scientists, politicians, journalists, and tourists.


Until 2003, astronauts were sponsored and trained exclusively by governments, either by the military, or by civilian space agencies. However, with the first sub-orbital flight of the privately-funded SpaceShipOne in 2004, a new category of astronaut was created: the commercial astronaut. With the rise of space tourism, NASA and the Russian Federal Space Agency agreed to use the term "spaceflight participant" to distinguish those space travelers from astronauts on missions coordinated by those two agencies.
The criteria for what constitutes human spaceflight vary. The Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) defines spaceflight as any flight above an altitude of . However, in the United States, professional, military, and commercial astronauts who travel above an altitude of are awarded astronaut wings.
As of May 31, 2008, a total of 482 humans from 39 countries have reached 100km or more in altitude, of which 479 reached Low Earth orbit or beyond. Of these, 24 people have traveled beyond Low Earth orbit, to either lunar or trans-lunar orbit or to the surface of the moon; three of the 24 did so twice (Lovell, Young and Cernan). Under the U. S. definition, 488 people qualify as having reached space. Space travelers have spent over 30,400 person-days (or a cumulative total of over 83 years) in space, including over 100 astronaut-days of spacewalks. As of 2008, the man with the longest time in space is Sergei K. Krikalev, who has spent 803 days, 9 hours and 39 minutes, or 2.2 years, in space. Peggy A. Whitson holds the record for most time in space by a woman, with 377 days spent in space.


see also Astronaut ranks and positions
In the United States and many other English-speaking nations, a professional space traveler is called an astronaut. The term derives from the Greek words ástron (άστρον), meaing "star", and nautes (ναύτης), meaning "sailor". The first known use of the term "astronaut" in the modern sense was by Neil R. Jones in his short story The Death's Head Meteor in 1930. The word itself had been known earlier. For example, in Percy Greg's 1880 book Across the Zodiac, "astronaut" referred to a spacecraft. In Les Navigateurs de l'Infini (1925) of J.-H. Rosny aîné, the word astronautique (astronautic) was used. The word may have been inspired by "aeronaut", an older term for an air traveler first applied (in 1784) to balloonists.
NASA applies the term astronaut to any crew member aboard NASA spacecraft bound for Earth orbit or beyond. NASA also uses the term as a title for those selected to join its Astronaut Corps.


By convention, an astronaut employed by the Russian Federal Space Agency (or its Soviet predecessor) is called a cosmonaut in English texts. The term taikonaut is used by some English-language news media organizations for professional space travelers from China. The origin of the term is unclear; as early as May 1998, Chiew Lee Yih () from Malaysia, used it in newsgroups, while Chen Lan, almost simultaneously, used it in Western media.

Other terms

While no nation other than Russia (formerly the Soviet Union), the United States, and China has launched a manned spacecraft, several other nations have sent people into space in cooperation with one of these countries. Inspired partly by these missions, other synonyms for astronaut have entered occasional English usage. For example, the term spationaut (French spelling: spationaute) is sometimes used to describe French space travelers, from the Latin word spatium or "space", and the Malaysian term angkasawan is used to describe participants in the Angkasawan program.

Space travel milestones

The first human in space was Russian Yuri Gagarin, who was launched into space on April 12 1961 aboard Vostok 1. The first woman was Russian Valentina Tereshkova, launched into space in June 1963 aboard Vostok 6.
Alan Shepard became the first American and second person in space on May 5, 1961, while the first American woman in space was Sally Ride, during Space Shuttle Challenger's mission STS-7, on June 18, 1983.
The first mission to orbit the moon was Apollo 8, which included William Anders who was born in Hong Kong, making him the first Asian-born astronaut in 1968. On 15 October 2003, Yang Liwei became China's first astronaut on the Shenzhou 5 spacecraft.
The Soviet Union, through its Intercosmos program, allowed people from other socialist countries to fly on its missions. An example is Vladimir Remek, a Czechoslovak, who became the first non-Soviet European in space in 1978 on a Russian Soyuz rocket. On July 23, 1980, Pham Tuan of Vietnam became the first Asian in space when he flew aboard Soyuz 37. Also in 1980, Cuban Arnaldo Tamayo Méndez became the first person of African descent to fly in space (the first person born in Africa to fly in space was Patrick Baudry, in 1985). In 1988, Abdul Ahad Mohmand became the first Afghan to reach space, spending nine days aboard the Mir space station.
With the larger number of seats available on the Space Shuttle, the U.S. began taking international astronauts. In April 1985, Taylor Wang became the first Chinese-born person in space; later that year, Rodolfo Neri Vela became the first Mexican-born person in space. In 1991, Helen Sharman became the first Briton to fly in space. In 2002, Mark Shuttleworth became the first citizen of an African country to fly in space, as a paying spaceflight participant.

Age milestones

The youngest person to fly in space is Russian Gherman Titov, who was 25 years old when he flew Vostok 2. (Titov was also the first person to suffer space sickness). The oldest person who has flown in space is John Glenn, who was 77 when he flew on STS-95. The longest stay in space was 438 days, by Russian Valeri Polyakov. In December 1990, Toyohiro Akiyama became the first paying space traveler as a reporter for Tokyo Broadcasting System, a visit to Mir as part of an estimated $12 million (USD) deal with a Japanese TV station, although at the time, the term used to refer to Akiyama was "Research Cosmonaut". Akiyama suffered severe space-sickness during his mission, which affected his productivity.. Five others have paid to fly into space:
  1. Dennis Tito (American): April 28May 6, 2001
  2. Mark Shuttleworth (South African / British): April 25May 5, 2002 (ISS)
  3. Gregory Olsen (American): October 1October 11, 2005 (ISS)
  4. Anousheh Ansari (Iranian / American): September 18September 29, 2006 (ISS)
  5. Charles Simonyi (Hungarian / American): April 7April 21,2007 (ISS)


see also Astronaut ranks and positions The first NASA astronauts were selected in 1959. Early in the space program, military jet test piloting and engineering training were often cited as prerequisites for selection as an astronaut at NASA, although neither John Glenn nor Scott Carpenter (of the Mercury Seven) had any university degree, in engineering or any other discipline at the time of their selection. Selection was initially limited to military pilots. The earliest astronauts for both America and Russia tended to be jet fighter pilots, and were often test pilots.
Once selected, NASA astronauts go through 20 months of training in a variety of areas, including training for extra-vehicular activity in a facility such as NASA's Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory. Mission Specialist Educators, or "Educator Astronauts", were first selected in 2004, and as of 2007, there are three NASA Educator astronauts: Joseph M. Acaba, Richard R. Arnold, and Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger. Barbara Morgan, selected as back-up teacher to Christa McAuliffe in 1985, is considered to be the first Educator astronaut by the media, but she trained as a mission specialist. The Educator Astronaut program is a successor to the Teacher in Space program from the 1980s.


At NASA, people who complete astronaut candidate training receive a silver lapel pin. Once they have flown in space, they receive a gold pin. U.S. astronauts who also have active-duty military status receive a special qualification badge, known as the Astronaut Badge, after participation on a spaceflight. The United States Air Force also presents an Astronaut Badge to its pilots who exceed 50 miles (80 km) in altitude.
astronaut in Afrikaans: Ruimtevaarder
astronaut in Arabic: رائد فضاء
astronaut in Bengali: নভোচারী
astronaut in Bosnian: Astronaut
astronaut in Bulgarian: Космонавт
astronaut in Catalan: Astronauta
astronaut in Chuvash: Космонавт
astronaut in Czech: Kosmonaut
astronaut in Danish: Astronaut
astronaut in German: Raumfahrer
astronaut in Spanish: Astronauta
astronaut in Esperanto: Kosmonaŭto
astronaut in Basque: Astronauta
astronaut in Persian: فضانورد
astronaut in French: Spationaute
astronaut in Western Frisian: Romtefarder
astronaut in Galician: Astronauta
astronaut in Korean: 우주비행사
astronaut in Croatian: Astronaut
astronaut in Indonesian: Antariksawan
astronaut in Interlingua (International Auxiliary Language Association): Astronauta
astronaut in Italian: Astronauta
astronaut in Hebrew: טייס חלל
astronaut in Georgian: კოსმონავტი
astronaut in Kurdish: Astronot
astronaut in Latin: Astronauta
astronaut in Lithuanian: Astronautas
astronaut in Hungarian: Űrhajós
astronaut in Malay (macrolanguage): Angkasawan
astronaut in Dutch: Ruimtevaarder
astronaut in Japanese: 宇宙飛行士
astronaut in Norwegian: Romfarer
astronaut in Norwegian Nynorsk: Romfarar
astronaut in Occitan (post 1500): Astronauta
astronaut in Low German: Astronaut
astronaut in Polish: Astronauta
astronaut in Portuguese: Astronauta
astronaut in Romanian: Astronaut
astronaut in Russian: Космонавт
astronaut in Sicilian: Astronauta
astronaut in Simple English: Astronaut
astronaut in Slovak: Kozmonaut
astronaut in Slovenian: Astronavt
astronaut in Saterfriesisch: Ruumtefierder
astronaut in Finnish: Astronautti
astronaut in Swedish: Rymdfarare
astronaut in Telugu: వ్యోమగామి
astronaut in Thai: นักบินอวกาศ
astronaut in Vietnamese: Nhà du hành vũ trụ
astronaut in Tajik: Кайҳоннавард
astronaut in Turkish: Uzayadamı
astronaut in Ukrainian: Астронавт
astronaut in Chinese: 宇航员

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Martian, adventurer, aeronaut, aeroplaner, aeroplanist, air pilot, airplanist, alien, alpinist, aviator, barnstormer, birdman, camper, captain, climber, cloud seeder, comers and goers, commercial pilot, commuter, copilot, cosmonaut, cosmopolite, crop-duster, cruiser, excursionist, explorer, fare, flier, globe-girdler, globe-trotter, goer, hajji, instructor, jet jockey, jet set, jet-setter, journeyer, licensed pilot, man from Mars, mariner, mountaineer, palmer, passenger, passerby, pathfinder, pilgrim, pilot, pioneer, planetary colony, rainmaker, rocket man, rocketeer, rubberneck, rubbernecker, sailor, sightseer, space crew, space traveler, spaceman, straphanger, stunt flier, stunt man, test pilot, tourer, tourist, trailblazer, trailbreaker, transient, traveler, trekker, tripper, viator, visiting fireman, voortrekker, voyager, voyageur, wayfarer, wingman, world-traveler
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