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Astronaut Bruce McCandless II using a manned maneuvering unit outside the U.S. Space Shuttle Challenger in 1984

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.[1] While generally reserved for professional space travelers, the term is sometimes applied to anyone who travels into space, including scientists, politicians, journalists, and tourists.[2][3]


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 over 100 kilometers (62 mi). However, in the United States, professional, military, and commercial astronauts who travel above an altitude of 80 kilometers (50 mi) are awarded astronaut wings.

Main article: Psychological aspects of astronaut selection
Main article: Psychological aspects of astronaut training
Main article: Psychological aspects of space flight

See also

  • The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. Definition of "astronaut". The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition (2000). URL accessed on 2007-05-07.
  • NASA (2006). Astronaut Fact Book. (.pdf) National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
  • Marie MacKay (2005). Former astronaut visits USU. The Utah Statesman.
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