An astronaut is any person who is trained by NASA to travel and perform tasks in space. Although the space traveler may not necessarily be a United States citizen, each astronaut does go through a rigorous training regiment by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Other space travelers go by other names then astronaut depending on their country of origin.
In the United States, astronaut is derived from the Greek words Ã¡stron (star) and nautes (sailor). While, in Russia, a space traveler goes by the name ÐºÐ¾ÑÐ¼Ð¾Ð½Ð°Ð²Ñ‚ (English: cosmonaut), which is derived from the Greek words kosmos (universe) and nautes (sailor). Westerners call a space traveler from China a taikonaut, based on the 1998 writings of Chiew Lee Yik and Chen Lan where the term tÃ ikÅng (great emptiness), Chinese for “space”. In China, the term yÇ”hÃ¡ng yuÃ¡n (universe navigator) is used for space traveler.
Only the United States of America (United States), Russia (earlier, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics), and the People’s Republic of China (China) have sent manned spacecraft into space. Other countries have assisted these countries by sending their own space travelers on space missions. For instance, a French space traveler is called a spationaut (from the French word spationaute), which is derived from the Latin spatium (space) and Greek nautis (sailor).
It is believed that the first modern use of the word astronaut was in the short story “The Death’s Head Meteor", which was published by Neil R. Jones in 1930. Older versions of the word, such as astronautique and aeronaut, had also been used in earlier writings.
The first space traveler was Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, who reached orbit about the Earth on April 12, 1961, aboard Vostok 1.
On May 5, 1961, Alan Shepard became the first U.S. astronaut to travel into space when he was launched aboard Freedom 7 and flew a suborbital flight to an altitude of 116 statute miles.
On June 16, 1963, Russian cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space when she flew aboard Vostok 6.
Sally Ride became the first U.S. astronaut to fly on space on June 18, 1983, when she flew aboard Space Shuttle Challenger on STS-7.
Norman Thagard became the first U.S. astronaut to become a U.S. cosmonaut when he flew onboard the Soyuz TM-21 spacecraft on March 14, 1995, for Russian’s Mir-18 mission.
Today in the United States and Russia the words astronaut and cosmonaut, respectively, is a general term for a person who travels into space as one’s profession. When a person’s profession is not as an astronaut nor as a cosmonaut then that person, according to NASA and the Russian Aviation and Space Agency (now called the Russian Federal Space Agency [Roskosmos]), is called a spaceflight participant. They may be journalists, politicians, scientists, or tourists. The privately-funded commercialization of space in 2005 created the term commercial astronaut.
Over 450 people from 37 countries have traveled into space. Only 24 people have left Earth’s orbit. These men were astronauts aboard Apollo 8, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, and 17 as they traveled back and forth between the Earth and the Moon between December 1968 and December 1972. Of these 24 astronauts, twelve of them walked on the Moon. Six of these twelve men drove a Moon rover.