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U.S. Space Shuttle astronaut Bruce McCandless II using a manned maneuvering unit (MMU) outside the Challenger in 1984. Picture courtesy NASA

An astronaut, cosmonaut (Russian: космона́вт), spationaut (French) or taikonaut (Chinese: 太空人; pinyin: tàikōng rén) is a person who travels into space, or who makes a career of doing so.

The criteria for determining who has achieved human spaceflight vary (see edge of space). In the United States, people who travel above an altitude of 80 kilometres (50 miles) are designated as astronauts. The FAI defines spaceflight as over 100 kilometres (62 miles). As of September 9, 2006, a total of 454 humans have reached space according to the U.S. definition, 448 people qualify under the FAI definition, while 444 people have reached Earth orbit or beyond.[citation needed] 24 astronauts have completely left the Earth's Orbit. These individuals have spent over 29,000 crew-days (or a cumulative total of over 77 years) in space including over 100 crew-days of spacewalks.<ref>Manned astronautics: facts and figures,, Alexander Anikeev, September 11, 2006, accessed September 15, 2006</ref> Astronauts from at least 35 countries have gone into space. The U.S. awards astronaut wings to those who fly into space on their rockets.


[edit] International variations

By convention, a space traveller employed by the Russian Aviation and Space Agency (or its Soviet predecessor) is called a cosmonaut. The word is an anglicisation of the Russian word космонавт (IPA [kəsmʌˈnaft]), which in turn derives from the Greek words kosmos ("universe") and nautes ("sailor").

In the U.S., a space traveller is called an astronaut. The term derives from the Greek words ástron ("star") and nautes ("sailor"). For the most part, "cosmonaut" and "astronaut" are synonyms in all languages, and the usage of choice is often dictated by political reasons. 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 traveller first applied (in 1784) to balloonists.

On March 14, 1995 astronaut Norman Thagard became the first American to ride to space on board a Russian launch vehicle, arguably becoming the first American cosmonaut in the process.

The term spationaut (French spelling: spationaute) is sometimes used to describe French space travellers (derived from Latin spatium, "space", and Greek nautis, "sailor"). Europe has not yet produced manned spacecraft, but has sent men and women into space in cooperation with Russia and the United States.

Taikonaut is sometimes used in English for astronauts from China by Western news media. The term was coined in May 1998 by Chiew Lee Yih (赵里昱) from Malaysia, who used it first in newsgroups. Almost simultaneously, Chen Lan coined it for use in the Western media based on the term tàikōng (太空, literally "great emptiness"), Chinese for "space". In Chinese itself, however, a single term y�"háng yuán (宇航�'�, "universe navigator") has long been used for astronauts. The closest term using taikong is a colloquialism tàikōng rén (太空人, "space person"), which refers to people who have actually been in space. Official English texts issued by the Chinese government use astronaut (Simplified Chinese: 航天员; pinyin: hángtiān yuán). Later on, domain name "" was registered by Jiao Xiaoyou(焦晓友) from Canada.

[edit] Space milestones

The first documented attempt in human history to use a rocket for spaceflight was made in the 16th century by a Chinese Ming dynasty official, a skilled stargazer named Wan Hu. Wan fashioned a crude vehicle out of a sturdy chair and two kites affixed with 47 of the largest gunpowder-filled rockets he could find, and had his servants light them as he sat on the chair. The resultant explosion presumably killed him. <ref></ref>

The first human in space was Russian Yuri Gagarin - the Soviet cosmonaut, who was launched into space on April 12 1961 aboard Vostok 1. The first woman was Russian Valentina Tereshkova - the Soviet cosmonaut, launched into space in June 1963 aboard Vostok 6.

Alan Shepard became the first American in space in May 1961, while the first American woman in space was Sally Ride on June 18, 1983. The Soviet Union, through its Intercosmos program, allowed cosmonauts from other socialist countries to fly on its missions. An example of this is Vladimir Remek, a Czech, 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 April 1985, Taylor Wang became the first Chinese-born person in space; later that year, Rodolfo Neri 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. On 15 October 2003, Yang Liwei became China's first taikonaut on the Shenzhou 5 spacecraft. 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.

The youngest person to fly in space is Russian Gherman Titov, who was roughly 26 years old when he flew Vostok 2 (he was also the first to suffer "space sickness"), and the oldest is John Glenn, who was 77 when he flew on STS-95. The longest stay in space was 438 days by Russian Valeri Polyakov. As of 2005, the most spaceflights by an individual astronaut was seven, a record held by both Jerry L. Ross and Franklin Chang-Diaz. The furthest distance from Earth an astronaut has traveled was 401,056 km (during the Apollo 13 emergency).

The first non-governmental astronaut was Byron K. Lichtenberg, an MIT researcher who flew on Space Shuttle mission STS-9 in 1983[citation needed]. In December 1990, Toyohiro Akiyama became the first commercial spacefarer as a reporter for Tokyo Broadcasting System, who paid for his flight. The first self-funded space tourist was Dennis Tito onboard of the Russian spacecraft Soyuz TM-3 on 28 April 2001. The first person to fly on an entirely privately-funded mission was Mike Melvill, on SpaceShipOne flight 15P (which he piloted), though this flight was sub-orbital.

In the United States, persons selected as astronaut candidates receive silver Astronaut wings. Once they have flown in space they receive gold Astronaut wings. The United States Air Force also presents Astronaut wings to its pilots who exceed 50 miles (80 km) in altitude.

[edit] Astronaut training

The first astronauts, both in the U.S. and USSR, tended to be jet fighter pilots, often test pilots, from military backgrounds. U.S. astronauts receive a special qualification badge, known as the Astronaut Badge upon completion of Astronaut training and participation in a space flight.

Astronauts may train for extra-vehicular activity in a facility such as NASA's Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory. Astronauts-in-training may also experience short periods of weightlessness in aircraft such as the "vomit comet", a modified KC-135 which performs parabolic flights. Astronauts are also required to accrue a number of flight hours in high-performance jet aircraft. This is mostly done in T-38 jet aircraft out of Ellington Field, due to its proximity to the Johnson Space Center. Ellington Field is also where the Shuttle Training Aircraft is maintained and developed, although most flights of the aircraft are done out of Edwards Air Force Base.

[edit] Astronaut deaths

Main article: Space disaster
Dick Scobee, commander of the Space Shuttle Challenger during the STS-51-L mission.

To date, eighteen astronauts have been killed on space missions, and at least ten more have been killed in ground-based training accidents. Fourteen of these have died in the Space Shuttle program, during mishaps in missions STS-51-L (Space Shuttle Challenger disaster) and STS-107 (Space Shuttle Columbia disaster).

[edit] See also

[edit] References

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[edit] External links

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