An Astronaut is a person prepared, equipped, and dispatched by a human spaceflight program to serve as a commander or crew member aboard a spaceship. The term astronaut is derived from the Ancient Greek ἄστροv (astron), meaning’star’, and ναύτης (nautes), meaning’sailor’. The phrase is occasionally used to refer to any individual who journeys into space, including scientists, politicians, journalists, and tourists, despite it being primarily used to describe professional space travelers.
The term “astronaut” technically refers to any human space traveler, regardless of nationality. Nonetheless, astronauts sent by Russia or the USSR are commonly referred to as cosmonauts (derived from the Russian term “kosmos” (космос), which translates to “space” and is also derived from the Greek word κόσμoς). Although its origin is unclear, the term “taikonaut” (from the Mandarin “tàikōng” (太空), meaning “space”) has gained popularity due to China’s relatively recent advancements in crewed spaceflight. “Heaven navigator” or literally “heaven-sailing staff” is the official term used in China to refer to both the astronauts of the People’s Liberation Army Astronaut Corps and their international counterparts.
There have been 600 astronaut space flights since 1961.Up until 2002, governments—either military or civilian space agencies—provided all funding and training for astronauts. A new class of astronaut was established in 2004 with the suborbital flight of the privately funded Space Ship One: the commercial astronaut.



Different definitions of what constitutes human spaceflight exist. Some place emphasis on the point at which the atmosphere gets so thin that a major amount of the flight object’s weight is carried by centrifugal force instead of aerodynamic force. Only flights that surpass the Kármán line at a height of 100 kilometers (62 mi) are recognized by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) Sporting Code for astronautics. Astronaut wings are granted to commercial, military, and professional astronauts operating in the United States who reach altitudes more than 80 kilometers (50 miles).
As of November 17, 2016, 552 individuals from 36 countries had ascended to a height of 100 km (62 mi) or more; 549 of them had done so to low Earth orbit or higher.Of them, twenty-four have left low Earth and gone beyond.
As of November 17, 2016, 558 individuals meet the American definition of space travel, having traveled above 50 miles (80 km) in height. Only one X-15 pilot, Joseph A. Walker, reached an altitude of more than 100 kilometers (62.1 miles) out of the eight who did so; he became the first person in space twice.More than 41,790 man-days (114.5 man-years) and more than 100 astronaut-days of spacewalks have been completed by space travelers. Gennady Padalka, who has spent 879 days in space as of 2016, is the man with the most total time in space. At 675 days, Peggy A. Whitson holds the record for the longest period of time a woman has spent in space.



NASA Administrator T. Keith Glennan and his Deputy Administrator, Hugh Dryden, debated in 1959—when both the US and the USSR were preparing for, but had not yet launched, humans into space—whether spacecraft crew members should be referred to as astronauts or cosmonauts. Dryden chose “cosmonaut” over “astro” because he believed that flights would take place both within and outside the greater universe, whereas the latter suggested travel only to the stars. The term “astronaut” was chosen by the majority of NASA Space Task Group members, and it continues to be the favored term in American usage.The Soviet Union used a name that anglicizes to “cosmonaut” when they launched Yuri Gagarin, the first man into space, in 1961.



Astronauts are space travelers who travel professionally. The term “astronaut” was first used in the contemporary sense in a short story titled “The Death’s Head Meteor” by Neil R. Jones in 1930. The term “astronaut” has previously been used; for instance, it was used to describe a spacecraft in Percy Greg’s 1880 novel Across the Zodiac. The term astronautique (astronautics) first in J.-H. Rosny aîné’s 1925 book Les Navigateurs de l’infini. The name “aeronaut,” an older word for an air traveler that was originally used in 1784 to refer to balloonists, may have served as an inspiration. Eric Frank Russell’s poem “The Astronaut,” which first appeared in the British Interplanetary Society Bulletin in November 1934, is an example of an early use of the term “astronaut” in a non-fiction work.
With the creation of the annual International Astronautical Congress in 1950 and the International Astronautical Federation the following year, the term “astronautics” was first formally used in the scientific community.
Any crew member aboard a NASA spacecraft headed for Earth orbit or beyond is referred to as an astronaut by NASA. The phrase is also used by NASA to refer to people who are chosen to be a part of its Astronaut Corps.Members of the European Space Agency’s Astronaut Corps are referred to as astronauts in a similar manner.


In English texts, it is customary to refer to an astronaut working for the Russian Federal Space Agency (or its predecessor, the Soviet space program) as a cosmonaut. The term is an Anglicization of kosmonavt, which is pronounced [kəsmɐˈnaft] in Russian (космонaвт). While Poles also used astronauta, and the two words are regarded synonyms, other former Eastern Bloc nations use Polish kosmonauta, which is a variation of the Russian kosmonavt.
The originator of the phrase “космонавт” is Mikhail Tikhonravov (1900–1974), a pioneer in Soviet aeronautics, sometimes known as “cosmonautics”. Yuri Gagarin, a pilot in the Soviet Air Force, was the first person in space and the first cosmonaut. Along with German Titov, Yevgeny Khrunov, Andriyan Nikolayev, Pavel Popovich, and Grigoriy Nelyubov, he was one of the original six Soviet citizens to be granted the title of the first “American cosmonaut”.



Astronauts and cosmonauts in general are referred to as “cosmos navigating personnel” (宇航员) in Chinese. Chinese astronauts use hángtiān yuán (航天员, “navigating celestial-heaven personnel”). The term “spaceflight” or “hángtiān” (鈪天, literally “heaven-navigating”) is defined as space navigation within the Solar System, which is the local star system. In Taiwan and Hong Kong, the term “spaceman” or “tàikōng rén” (太空人) is frequently used.
Some English-language news outlets refer to Chinese space travelers in their professional capacity as “taikonauts.”The phrase is included in the Longman and Oxford English dictionaries. It gained popularity in 2003 after China launched Yang Liwei, its first astronaut, into space aboard the Shenzhou 5 spacecraft.Since the start of the Chinese space program, this is the word used by Xinhua News Agency in the Chinese People’s Daily in English.Uncertainty surrounds the term’s genesis; Malaysian Chiew Lee Yih (趙裡昱) used it in newsgroups as early as May 1998.



The European Space Agency planned to hire “parastronauts,” or astronauts with physical disabilities, for its 2022 Astronaut Group. Spaceflight is not a given, but it is one of the goals.Those with lower limb deficiencies (from amputation or congenital conditions), leg length differences, or small height (less than 130 centimeters or 4 feet 3 inches) were among the impairment categories taken into consideration for the program. John McFall was chosen to be the first ESA astronaut on November 23, 2022.


The race for space

The Soviet Union and the United States fought each other in the Cold War in the late 1950s and early 1960s. This implied that although there was no active conflict, there was always a possibility. Nearly everything was in competition between the two opposing ideologies of the United States (democracy) and the Soviet Union (communism). And this extended to the race for space!
By launching the first person into space in April 1961, the Soviet Union emerged victorious in the first space race. This was Yuri Gagarin, the cosmonaut. It took an additional month for US astronaut Alan Shepard to reach space.
In 1965, Alexei Leonov carried out the first spacewalk as part of the Voskhod 2 mission, dealing a second blow to the Soviet Union. Ed White’s space walk, which he did four months later as part of NASA’s Gemini 4 mission, showed that the US was once again falling behind.
The U.S. government decided to concentrate only on landing a person on the moon because they were getting impatient with falling behind in the space race. This was accomplished in 1969 when Michael Collins, Buzz Aldrin, and Neil Armstrong launched as part of the Apollo 11 mission and touched down on the moon. This was the 1960s space race at its height. More space missions followed after this aim was accomplished, but American enthusiasm wagged and financing fell.


Following the Moon Landing

NASA continued to train astronauts despite having little funding. The Mir space station, which orbited the Earth and served as the primary docking station for missions until 1996, was the product of Soviet Union development efforts during the 1980s. Russian cosmonauts used this space station as a base as it circled the planet continuously.
Russia welcomed astronauts and taikonauts from all countries to the Mir space station after the end of the Cold War. As a result, space exploration entered a completely new age and scientific space missions became more cooperative. It was no longer a race, but rather a common endeavor to learn new things about the universe.
The International Space Station, or ISS, took the role of the Mir space station when its orbit began to deteriorate. This massive orbiting research laboratory, which completes spacewalks, conducts experiments, gathers samples, and maintains equipment, circles the Earth every 93 minutes. It is divided into two sections, one run by Russia and the other by the US and other countries.


Resources for teaching astronauts

We have teacher-made resources available if you’re eager to give your class an extraordinary glimpse into astronauts. These are a few of our top picks.
Use these Apollo 11 and Neil Armstrong PowerPoints to pique your kids’ interest while they learn about the 1969 Moon Landing.
This Katherne Johnson Reading Comprehension Activity is a fantastic way to learn about the math that went into the Moon Landing and the woman who created the formulas required for a safe return to Earth.
For younger learners, our Space Activity Pack is ideal if you’re looking for a more inventive way to investigate American space pioneers. Inspire kids with coloring pages with space themes, espionage games for astronauts, and interplanetary needlework!

How many individuals have visited space?

Human spaceflight has always been a top objective, dating back to the early days of the space race.
For over two decades, the International Space Station (ISS) has been the home of a permanent human presence in orbit. Research on microgravity on space stations has yielded important insights for upcoming extended human space missions. According to the U.S. definition of space as an altitude of 50 miles (80 kilometers), 676 people had traveled there as of Nov. 7, 2023, according to data analyzed by the Space Foundation on human spaceflight. Sixty-three of these astronauts have crossed the Kármán line, which is accepted globally as being 100 kilometers (62 miles).
Eighty-six percent of astronauts who are sent into space return after at least one orbit around the planet. Four percent more than that left Earth’s orbit. In the 1960s and 1970s, NASA’s Apollo program sent 24 men to the Moon; 12 of them made it to lunar orbit, while the remaining 12 touched down on the surface.
A new wave of humans entered space with the Space Shuttle Program’s inaugural missions in the 1980s. With 38 shuttle astronauts launching into orbit for the first time in 1985, this activity reached a pinnacle. More recently, commercial spaceflight operators have spearheaded a new wave of activity aimed primarily at suborbital space travel by private astronauts and tourists.
Over their careers, public astronauts often accomplish numerous space missions; 65 percent have completed two or more flights, compared to just 10 percent of private space travelers. Frederick “C. J.” Sturckow, a retired NASA astronaut who is currently a pilot with Virgin Galactic, is still the only person to have made nine space trips.
43 different countries have sent humans into space. With nearly 61 percent of astronauts and 66 percent of all space missions completed, the United States leads the world in both counts. Russia comes in second with 134 cosmonauts (20 percent).
The shift in emphasis towards diversification has been the most notable development in human spaceflight in recent years. The four astronauts chosen for the Artemis II mission include the first woman (Christina Koch), the first person of color (Victor Glover), and the first non-American (Jeremy Hansen of the Canadian Space Agency) to travel beyond Earth orbit—a stark contrast to the dearth of diversity in the Apollo program.Travelers’ access to space is growing thanks to the commercial spaceflight industry. 69 private astronauts have made their maiden spaceflights in the last three years, 23 surpassing the US definition of space and 46 exceeding the Kármán line.

Space travel’s health hazards

Numerous health concerns affect astronauts, such as radiation injury, decompression sickness, immunodeficiencies, loss of bone and muscle, loss of vision, orthostatic intolerance, and sleep disorders.To address these challenges, the National Space Biomedical Research Institute (NSBRI) is conducting a range of extensive medical investigations in space. The Advanced Diagnostic Ultrasound in Microgravity Study is a notable example of this. In this study, astronauts, including former ISS commanders Leroy Chiao and Gennady Padalka, conduct ultrasound scans in space to diagnose and possibly treat hundreds of medical conditions under the supervision of remote experts. The methods developed in this work are currently being used to cover injuries sustained in professional and Olympic sports as well as ultrasounds carried out by non-expert operators .Salmonella typhimurium, a bacterium that can cause food poisoning, grew more virulent when grown in space, according to a 2006 Space Shuttle experiment. It was discovered in 2017 that bacteria may survive in almost weightlessness in space and are more resistant to antibiotics. It has been noted that microorganisms can endure the vacuum of space.
According to a NASA-sponsored study published on December 31, 2012, space travel may damage the brain and hasten the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
The NASA Office of Inspector General released a report on health risks associated with space travel, which included a human journey to Mars, in October 2015.
NASA scientists and flight surgeons have observed a trend of visual issues in astronauts on extended space missions during the past ten years. Following extended stays on the International Space Station (ISS), over two-thirds of space explorers have been observed to experience the syndrome known as visual impairment intracranial pressure (VIIP).


Food and beverages

The daily food intake of an astronaut aboard the International Space Station is around 830 g (29 oz) (including approximately 120 g or 4.2 oz of packaging mass per meal).
Astronauts on the Space Shuttle collaborated with nutritionists to customize meals to suit their personal preferences. The shuttle dietitian chose the foods and assessed their nutritional value five months prior to takeoff. Foods undergo testing to determine their response to a decreased gravity setting. A formula known as the baseline energy expenditure (BEE) is used to calculate calorie requirements. An American uses approximately 35 US gallons (130 L) of water each day on average. The astronauts on board the ISS restrict their daily water use to roughly three US gallons (11 L).



After completing their missions, cosmonauts in Russia are granted the title of Pilot-Cosmonaut of the Russian Federation, which is sometimes given in conjunction with the title of Hero of the Russian Federation. This is in line with the USSR’s established custom of bestowing the title “Hero of the Soviet Union” upon cosmonauts.
Upon completion of astronaut candidate training, NASA employees are awarded a silver lapel pin. They get a gold pin once they’ve successfully flown in space. After taking part in a spaceflight, American astronauts who are serving in the military on active duty are awarded the Astronaut Badge, a unique qualifying badge. Pilots of the United States Air Force who reach an altitude of more than fifty miles (eighty kilometers) are additionally awarded an Astronaut Badge.



Eighteen astronauts—fourteen men and four women—had lost their lives in space on four separate occasions as of 2020. Thirteen of them were Americans, four were Soviet Russians, and one was Israeli.
As of 2020, eight Americans and three Russians, all of them men, had lost their lives while preparing for space travel. Four of them were fires in pure oxygen conditions, one drowned during water recovery training, and six died in training jet aircraft crashes.
During his 1971 Apollo 15 mission, astronaut David Scott left a memorial on the Moon that included a statuette named Fallen Astronaut and a list of the names of eight astronauts and six cosmonauts who were known to have died while performing their duties.
The Astronauts Memorial Foundation is responsible for maintaining the Space Mirror Memorial, which honors the men and women who have lost their lives while training for space missions and on board spacecraft, and is located on the grounds of the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. Twenty NASA career astronauts are honored on the memorial, along with the names of an X-15 test pilot, a U.S. Air Force officer who died in training for a military space program that was still classified at the time, and a civilian spaceflight participant.


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