views updated May 23 2018


An astronaut is a person trained to perform a specific task on a craft designed and intended to travel beyond Earth's atmosphere. The term "astronaut" derives from the Greek words meaning "space sailor." The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) uses the term to designate all persons who have been launched as crew members aboard NASA spacecraft bound for Earth orbit and beyond. The term is also used by NASA to designate everyone selected to join the corps of NASA astronauts, whether they have been in space or not.

The Past

Between April 9, 1959, when the first seven U.S. astronauts were presented at a press conference in Washington, DC, and 1978, a total of 73 men were selected as astronauts by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Of these individuals, 43 flew in the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, and Skylab programs. In 1978, 35 new astronaut candidates were selected for the Space Shuttle program, including six women. Since then, candidates have been recruited continuously, with selection occurring about every two years.

NASA selected the first group of astronauts in 1959. The original "Mercury seven" astronauts were all military test pilots with at least 1,500 hours of flight time. From an initial group of 508 men, 32 pilots were selected for further testing. These men were put through strenuous physiological and psychiatric examinations, reducing the number of potential candidates to 18. Finally, seven men were selected as America's first astronauts.

Each of the original astronauts flew in Project Mercury except Donald Slayton, who was grounded for medical reasons. Sixteen years later, Slayton finally got his chance to go into space when he was selected as an American crew member of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, the world's first international manned space flight.

Nine more astronauts were selected in September 1962. Two were civilian test pilots and seven were military test pilots. A third group of 14 military and civilian test pilots was selected in October 1963.

By 1964, the emphasis on test pilots had shifted, and NASA began looking more closely at academic qualifications. In October of 1964, over 400 applications were reviewed from individuals who met minimum physical requirements and also had a doctorate or equivalent experience in the natural sciences, medicine, or engineering. From a pool of more than 400 applicants, six were selected in June 1965 as the first scientist-astronauts. Only oneHarrison H. Schmitt, a geologistflew to the Moon. Three other scientist-astronauts orbited in Skylab, the space laboratory.

During the remainder of the 1960s and early 1970s, several more groups of pilot astronauts and scientist-astronauts were recruited. A fifth group of 19 more test pilots was named in April 1966, followed by a sixth group of 11 scientists in August 1967. A seventh group of seven astronauts was transferred to NASA in August 1969 from the U.S. Air Force after its Manned Orbiting Laboratory program was halted.

The concept of scientist-astronauts was expanded for the space shuttle program. A new category of astronaut was added, the mission specialist . The first group of astronaut candidates for the new space shuttle program was selected in January 1978. In July of 1978, the 35 candidates began a rigorous training and evaluation period at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas to qualify for subsequent assignment for future space shuttle flight crews. This group of 20 mission specialist astronauts and 15 pilot astronauts completed training and went from astronaut candidate status to astronaut (active status) in August 1979. Six of the 35 were women and four were minorities. Ten more groups of pilots and mission specialists have been added to the astronaut corps since 1979.

Since 1978, several additional groups have been selected with a mix of pilots and mission specialists. From 1959 through 2001, well over 300 people served as U.S. astronauts. There are currently over 100 astronauts actively serving in various capacities and an additional 16 astronaut candidates in training in the class of 2000 (Group 18). Over 100 astronauts have retired, resigned or been reassigned. Several former astronauts have entered politics. One former astronaut, John Glenn, served as a United States senator. Twenty-five astronauts are deceased.

Women in Space. To date, only 37 women have flown in space. This includes 29 Americans, three Russians, and five women from other nations. Some space experts considered using women astronauts from the very beginning. Women are generally smaller in stature and lighter in weight, so they would have had less difficulty fitting into the cramped Mercury capsule, which would have required less propellant mass to make orbit. The idea was considered seriously enough that initial testing was started. Ever political, the U.S. military knew that the Soviets had included women in their astronaut corps, and if the United States wanted to be the first to put a woman into space, it had to act quickly.

The result was the Mercury 13 program. Thirteen women pilots were originally selected: Myrtle "K." Cagle, Jerrie Cobb, Jan Dietrich, Marion Dietrich, Wally Funk, Jane Hart, Jean Hixson, Gene Nora Jessen, Irene Leverton, Sarah Ratley, Bernice "Bea" Steadman, Jerri Truhill, and Rhea Woltman. Cobb, Funk, and Woltman took a second series of fitness tests. Cobb and Funk went through a third stage of testing. Cobb rated in the top two percent of both men and women tested. However, NASA subsequently decided that astronauts had to be jet pilots and women, at that time, were not allowed to pilot jets, military or civilian. So the Mercury 13 program was disbanded and cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova became the first

woman in space in 1963. Two decades passed before Sally Ride would become the first American woman in space.

The Present

The goals of NASA for the twenty-first century include a continuing human presence in space. The International Space Station is designed and intended for long-term human occupation and may serve as a test platform for further exploration of space by humans, including trips to the Moon and Mars.

As of 2001, the crew of a space shuttle includes a commander, a pilot, and one or more mission specialists. The commander, pilot, and at least one mission specialist are selected from among NASA astronauts. The other crew position is usually a "payload specialist." Payload specialists may be cosmonauts or astronauts designated by other nations, individuals selected by a company flying a commercial payload aboard the spacecraft, or a person selected through some other formal selection process. They are scientists or engineers selected by their employer or country for their expertise in conducting a specific experiment or commercial venture on a space shuttle mission. Payload specialists are trained by NASA and are listed as members of the shuttle crew.

Pilot astronauts are trained to serve as both space shuttle commanders and pilots. The space flight commander has overall responsibility for the vehicle, crew, mission success, and safety of flight. The pilot's primary responsibility is controlling and operating the vehicle. The pilot may also assist in the deployment and retrieval of satellites using the robot arm .

Mission specialists have overall responsibility for the shuttle systems, crew activity planning, consumables usage, and payload operations. If the payload includes scientific experiments, these may be part of the mission specialist's responsibility or this responsibility may be shared with the payload specialist. One of the most important responsibilities of mission specialists is extravehicular activities (EVAs).

Astronaut Training. After an applicant is accepted into the astronaut program, he or she becomes an astronaut candidate. Astronaut candidates train at NASA's Johnson Space Center (JSC). While there, they attend classes on shuttle systems, and also study basic science and technology, including the mathematics of space flight, geology, meteorology, guidance systems and navigation, oceanography, orbital dynamics, astronomy, physics, and materials processing. Astronaut candidates are also trained in both land and sea survival techniques. Astronaut candidates are required to be certified on scuba gear because some of the training takes place in a large tank of water at the JSC. The tank provides neutral buoyancy, which simulates the freefall conditions of space flight.

The first experiences with free-fall (NASA prefers the term microgravity ) can be disconcerting and sometimes provoke extreme nausea. So astronaut candidates receive intensive training in a specially designed and equipped military KC-135 jet cargo plane (nicknamed the "Vomit Comet"). By launching itself into a parabolic arc, the aircraft can create free-fall conditions in its padded cargo bay for about 20 seconds. This maneuver can be repeated as many as 40 times during a training flight.

Pilot astronauts are also required to maintain flying proficiency by flying at least 15 hours per month. NASA has a small fleet of two-seat T-38 jets that the astronauts can use. NASA also has a fleet of four Shuttle Training Aircraft. These are Gulfstream II business jets that can be set up to perform like the Orbiter during landing.

The heart of the training program for candidate astronauts is a set of simulators and mock-ups of shuttle systems. Candidates begin with the single systems trainer where astronauts learn about the shuttle systems. Then candidates move to the more complex Shuttle Mission Simulators where they receive training in all aspects of shuttle vehicle systems and tasks. Several other simulators and mock-ups can be used to train the candidates in operating the remote arm; getting into or out of the orbiter hatches including emergency exits, launches, and landings; and working with mission control.

The current class of astronaut candidates (Group 18) includes 13 men and three women. Eleven of the class of 2000 are active military personnel. Ten of the group are training as mission specialists and the remainder as pilots. All have advanced academic degrees. Six hold the degree of Doctor of Philosophy and one is a medical doctor. Two of the civilian mission specialist candidates are certified private pilots.

The Future

The United States has partnered with Japan, Canada, Russia, and the European Space Agency to build and operate the human-tended International Space Station. Using the International Space Station as a starting point, humans may eventually return to the Moon and travel to Mars. There will be a continuing need for highly trained professional astronauts from all the nations in the partnership as well as other nations. If NASA's plans and goals come to fruition, space exploration and the astronaut corps will become more diverse and international.

NASA currently accepts applications for the Astronaut Candidate Program at any time. Classes are formed from the existing pool of applicants whenever need arises. This usually works out to be every two years. Candidates are selected for both pilot and mission specialist categories. Both civilian and military personnel are eligible for either category. However, the extensive flight experience in high-performance aircraft required of pilot candidates eliminates most civilians from consideration. Civilians may apply directly to NASA at any time. Military personnel apply through their service branch.

Mission specialists and pilot astronaut candidates must have a minimum of a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution in engineering, biological science, physical science, or mathematics. Competition is intense, however, so an applicant with only the minimum requirement is not likely to be selected. Applicants for the position of mission specialist must have, in addition to the education requirements, at least three years of professional experience. In reality, an advanced degree and several years of professional experience are necessary to be considered for candidacy. Mission specialists must be physically fit and be able to pass a physical examination. Their height must be between 58.5 and 76 inches.

Pilot astronaut applicants must meet several additional requirements including at least 1,000 hours as pilot-in-command time in jet aircraft; flight test experience, the ability to pass a tougher physical exam, and height between 64 and 76 inches.

Increasing Diversity Among Astronauts. Sally Ride became the first American woman in space in 1983. The twenty-first century holds out the promise of greater participation by women and minorities in space exploration. On July 23, 1999, when STS-93 lifted off, Air Force Colonel Eileen Collins became the first woman to command a space mission. Currently, 25 percent of NASA astronauts are women. NASA is currently launching a program to encourage more women and minority Air Force ROTC cadets to consider astronaut training. The current corps of astronauts reflects the diversity of American culture.

Age may also no longer be the limiting factor it once was. When Alan Shepard blasted off in a Mercury rocket as the first American in space, he had everything an astronaut was supposed to have. He had perfect eyesight, he was in top physical condition, and he had many hours of experience as a test pilot. He was also 37 years old, just three years under the cut-off age for astronauts. The late-twentieth-and early twenty-first-century astronaut corps looks quite different. When Story Musgrove blasted off in 1996, he was a balding ex-marine with six academic degrees. At 61, he was also the oldest person up to that time to have ventured into space. The astronaut corps includes six astronauts who are 50 years or older. The average age is 42, two years over the cut-off age faced by Alan Shepard.

There is no single person who can be chosen to represent the current astronaut corps, although Kalpana Chawla, a mission specialist, comes close. She was born in Karnal, India, and attended college in India before moving to the United States and graduating from the University of Texas with a master of science degree in aerospace engineering. She then graduated from the University of Colorado in 1988 with a doctorate of philosophy in aerospace engineering. Chawla is a certified pilot, holding a flight instructor's certificate, in addition to a commercial pilot's license for single and multi-engine land and sea planes.

Or perhaps Michael P. Anderson (Lieutenant Colonel USAF) can represent the current astronaut corps. He was born in Plattsburgh, New York and graduated from high school in Cheney, Washington. Anderson received a bachelor of science degree in physics and astronomy from the University of Washington and a master of science degree in physics from Creighton University in 1990.

As society changes, the astronaut corps will continue to become more diverse. The astronaut corps began with seven white males, all test pilots. In the early twenty-first century, the active astronaut corps is older and more diverse, including many women and minorities. Although moderate physical fitness is still a requirement, the emphasis is on advanced technical degrees and problem-solving ability. A doctorate in mathematics would be a good first step toward a career as an astronaut.

see also Spaceflight, History of; Spaceflight, Mathematics of; Space Exploration.

Elliot Richmond


Atkinson, Joseph D., Jr., and Shafritz, Jay M. The Real Stuff: A History of NASA's Astronaut Recruitment Program. New York: Praeger, 1985.

Baker, David. The History of Manned Space Flight. New York: Crown Publishers, 1981.

Cassutt, Michael. Who's Who in Space. New York: Macmillan Library Reference USA, 1987.

Clark, Phillip. The Soviet Manned Space Program: An Illustrated History of the Men, the Missions, and the Spacecraft. New York: Orion Books, 1988.

. Liftoff: The Story of America's Adventure in Space. New York: Grove Press, 1988.

Fox, Mary Virginia. Women Astronauts: Aboard the Shuttle. New York: J. Messner, 1984.

Lewis, Richard S. Appointment on the Moon: The Full Story of Americans in Space, from Explorer I to the Lunar Landing and Beyond. New York: Ballantine Books, 1969.

Welch, Rosanne. Encyclopedia of Women in Aviation and Space. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC CLIO, Inc., 1998.

Wolfe, Tom. The Right Stuff. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1983.


The original seven astronauts were Air Force Captains L. Gordon Cooper, Jr., Virgil "Gus" Grissom, and Donald K. "Deke" Slayton; Marine Lieutenant Colonel John H. Glenn, Jr.; Navy Lieutenant M. Scott Carpenter; and Navy Lieutenant Commanders Walter M. Schirra, Jr. and Alan B. Shepard, Jr. These men were all test pilots with extensive experience flying high-performance aircraft at speeds greater than the speed of sound. They also met the strict height limitations NASA had imposed because of the restricted space in the capsules.


"Space flight participants" were individuals selected by a specific program such as the Space Flight Participant Program. Christa McAuliffe, selected as a Teacher in Space Participant, is the only space flight participant to be included as a member of a shuttle crew. She was listed as a payload specialist on STS 51-L, along with the commander, Mr. Francis. R. Scobee, the pilot, Commander Michael J. Smith, mission specialists Dr. Ronald E. McNair, Judith A. Resnik, and Lieutenant Colonel Ellison S. Onizuka and payload specialist Mr. Gregory B. Jarvis. The STS 51-L crew died on January 28, 1986 when the shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after launch. As of 2001, NASA does not have an active Space Flight Participant Program.


views updated May 17 2018


During the 1960s, the civil rights movement began to change the United States. Much of the country was engulfed in the sometimes violent struggle to either create equal rights or to ensure that minority groups remained as second-class citizens. In the South, segregation often furthered the social disparity between African Americans and whites, placing African Americans in schools that lacked the funding provided to their white counterparts. However, this is also the period that introduced the nation's first African-American space travelers.

The politics of change were apparent in the 1960 election campaign of John F. Kennedy, who was the first presidential candidate to strongly contend for the minority vote. In a post-election conversation with National Urban League President Whitney Young, Kennedy was told that an African-American astronaut could encourage black youngsters to enter the science and technology fields. At the same time, news commentator Edward R. Murrow began suggesting to National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) administrator James E. Webb that

the nation should consider sending a black man into space "to retell our space effort to the whole nonwhite world, which is most of it" (Phelps, p. xviii). In 1962 President Kennedy asked the department of defense to find a black pilot who met the requirements to become an astronaut.

Edward J. Dwight (b. 1933) became the first African American selected to attend astronaut training in 1962. An accomplished pilot with an aeronautical degree from Arizona State University, Dwight received a letter from the president informing him of his selection. However, White House favoritism and racial prejudiceas described by Dwight in a fifteen page memorandum to the department of defenseeventually undermined his career. Although he was recommended by the astronaut selection board, Dwight and five of his eight recommended classmates were not selected to head into space. After suffering what he considered further discriminatory behavior by the U.S. Air Force, Dwight described significant social discrimination and resigned his commission in 1966.

Just one year later, however, Dr. Robert H. Lawrence (19351967), an air force major, qualified for the air force's Manned Orbital Laboratory program, becoming the first African-American astronaut designee and the only designee until that time who had earned a doctorate. Unfortunately, this new hope for an African-American astronaut passed at the end of that year with Lawrence's accidental death aboard an F-104 aircraft. No other African American would join the astronaut program until 1978, leading the Soviet Union to accuse the U.S. space program of racism. In 1963 the Soviets placed the first woman in space (Colonel Valentina Tereshkova, born in 1937) and allowed Cuba's Colonel Arnaldo Tamayo-Mendez, born in 1942, to become the first black man in space in 1980. As a participant in the Soviet Union's Intercosmos guest cosmonaut program, Tamayo-Mendez spent eight days aboard the Salyut 6 space station.

1978 to 1987

Whereas the 1963 entry of a Soviet woman into space embarrassed some senators who believed that the United States should have made a greater effort to create an inclusive astronaut corps, the 1964 Civil Rights Act encoded the need for NASA to integrate. In 1978, the astronaut training program welcomed its first female candidatesincluding Sally K. Ride, the first American woman in spaceand three African Americans: Guion (Guy) Bluford, Ronald McNair, and Frederick Gregory.

Guy Bluford Jr. (born in 1942) became the first African American in space on August 30, 1983. His launch aboard the Challenger was attended by black political leaders, educators, and entertainment figures. Bluford's contribution to aviation, however, had begun years before. After graduating from Pennsylvania State University as the only black student in the engineering school, he served with distinction in the skies over Vietnam. Upon his return from duty, he obtained a master's degree in aerospace engineering, followed by a doctorate in the same field and a minor in laser physics. His doctoral dissertation contributed to the study of thin wings traveling at velocities well above the speed of sound. From 1974 to 1978, as the chief of Air Dynamics and Airframe Branch at the Air Force Flight Dynamics Library, he supervised the research of over forty engineers using two wind tunnels. Finally, in 1979 he applied to and was accepted by the astronaut corps as a mission specialist. He performed work on various satellites and conducted experiments in physics, biology, and the processing of materials. In 1993 Bluford retired from both NASA and the air force with the rank of colonel.

His classmate, Frederick Gregory (born in 1941), was from a successful middle class family (his uncle was Dr. Charles Drew, a pioneer in blood storage and collection techniques). He pursued his education at the Air Force Academy, having been nominated by the civil rights leader and U.S. Representative Adam Clayton Powell Jr. After serving as a combat rescue pilot in Vietnam, he worked as a research test pilot at Langley Air Force Base from 1974 until 1978, when he joined the astronaut corps. Seven years later, in 1985, Gregory became the first African American to pilot an American spacecraft, maneuvering the Challenger into space. He served in mission control for subsequent spacecraft launches, and in 1993 he became administrator for the Office of Safety and Mission Assurance.

In 1986, while serving in mission control, Gregory witnessed the death of his classmate Ronald E. McNair (19501986) in the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger. At the age of nine, McNair defied the law and began to use the whites-only library in Lake City, South Carolina. As a physics student at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical University, he participated in an exchange program with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He later pursued his doctoral degreewith the aid of a fellowship from the Ford Foundationat MIT, where he continued to study physics because of its combination of math and science. There he helped develop some of the first chemical and high-pressure carbon dioxide lasers. As staff physicist at Hughes Research Labs in Malibu, California (19761978), McNair researched the use of lasers for satellite-to-satellite communication. He joined NASA's astronaut program as a mission specialist in 1978 and became the second African American in space in 1984. His research efforts in space included the testing of a remote manipulator arm, used to repair damage to satellites and to the shuttle itself, and the study of solar cells. Among the several memorials to McNair are the MIT McNair building, a center for space research, and the MIT McNair Scholarship, which honors African-American students for academic achievement and community development.

African Americans in Non-Astronautical Aviation

Successful African-American aviators include General Lester L. Lyles of the U.S. Air Force (ret. 2003), Professor Wesley L. Harris of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and Joseph R. Cleveland, Chief Information Officer for Lockheed Martin. Four-star General Lester Lyles, a graduate of Howard University, served in several capacities in the military. After leaving his position as Vice Chief of Staff, he assumed the leadership of the Air Force Materiel Command in April 2000, where he worked to invigorate his organization's role in science and technology. He emphasized the growth of Air Force participation in space and in developing government/industry partnerships. Wesley L. Harris, similarly, has sought such parterships during his career. In the time since receiving his doctorate from Princeton University, Harris has served as the NASA Associate Administrator for Aeronautics, co-director of the Lean Aerospace Initiative, and currently heads the MIT Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics. Like many noted astronauts, he has demonstrated sincere dedication to the advancement of minorities through education, having founded the MIT Office of Minority Affairs in 1975. Finally, community leader Joseph R. Cleveland exemplifies a leading African American within commercial aviation. As a member of the 2003 Board of Governors for the Orlando, Florida, Chamber of Commerce, he has devoted significant efforts to developing the local community. A graduate of Tennessee State University, a historically black institution, he now oversees the information technology operations at Lockheed Martin Corporation, the nation's largest military aerospace contractor. In 1996 Cleveland was named Black Engineer of the Year for Career Achievement in Industry by the Engineering Deans of Historically Black Colleges and Universities and one of the Premier 100 Information Technology Leaders by Computerworld magazine in 2004.

1987 to 2005

With the resurrection of the shuttle program in 1988 came another achievement for African Americans in aviation and space technology. In 1987, Dr. Mae Jemison (born in 1956) became the first African-American woman to gain entry to the Astronaut Candidate Program. Having graduated from Stanford University with a degree in chemical engineering, Jemison obtained a doctorate in medicine from Cornell University Medical College in 1981. Before joining NASA, she supervised the medical staff of the Peace Corps in Sierra Leone and Liberia, and practiced medicine with CIGNA Health Plans in California. On September 13, 1992, Dr. Jemison entered space on board the shuttle Endeavour. There she conducted experiments regarding the creation of drugs and the effects of low gravity on the human body. She also participated in a biofeedback experiment meant to help future space travelers deal with the effects of living outside the earth's atmosphere. In 1993 Jemison resigned her position at NASA to become a professor at Dartmouth University. At the same time, as director of the Jemison Institute for Advancing Technologies in Developing Nations, she led research to improve the living conditions in the developing world.

After Jemison's departure, her colleague Dr. Bernard Harris Jr. (born in 1956) continued to focus on maintaining human health in space, an ongoing NASA initiative. After becoming an astronaut candidate in 1990, he worked as project manager on the NASA Exercise Countermeasures Project, designing exercises to offset the loss of physical conditioning in space. In March 1993 Harris flew on Columbia and conducted the first medical conference from space with doctors at his alma mater, the Mayo Clinic.

Other Notables

As of 2005, NASA reported that fifteen African Americans have become astronauts or astronaut trainees. Other noted black astronauts include Charles F. Bolden (born in 1946), who served onboard Discovery in 1990 during the launch of the Hubble telescope and commanded the shuttle Atlantis in 1992, and Robert L. Curbeam (born in 1962), who was a member of the six-person crew that installed the laboratory on the International Space Station. In a tragic way, African-American astronaut Michael Anderson gained national attention following his death in the 2003 Columbia explosion.

A Common Thread

Despite the diverse backgrounds of the several African-American astronauts, one important similarity may be noted: a dedication to education. Of Bluford, McNair, Jemison, Bolden, and Gregory, all had at least one parent who worked as a teacher and imbued in his or her child the importance of education and a determination to learn and advance. After Edward Dwight left NASA, videos of his training were used to inspire young African Americans to enter science and technology. Ronald McNair encouraged young blacks to succeed as he traveled the country speaking to youth and advocating the recruitment of first-rate teachers for inner city schools. Both Guy Bluford and Frederick Gregory devoted time to similar causes. Mae Jemison's company, Jemison Group Inc., facilitates health care for the developing world by advocating the embrace of science and education. She also encourages young people to pursue careers in science and technology.

See also Drew, Charles Richard; Science


Atkinson, Joseph D., and Jay M. Shafritz. The Real Stuff: A History of NASA's Astronaut Recruitment Program. New York: Praeger, 1985.

Gelletly, LeeAnne. Mae Jemison. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2002.

Gubert, Betty, Miriam Kaplan, and Caroline M. Fannin. Distinguished African Americans in Aviation and Space Science. Westport, Conn.: Oryx, 2002.

Naden, Corinne J. Black Americans of Achievement: Ronald McNair. New York: Chelsea House, 1991.

Oberg, James E. Red Star in Orbit. New York: Random House, 1981.

Phelps, J. Alfred. They Had a Dream: The Story of the First African-American Astronauts. Novato, Calif.: Presidio, 1994.

wesley l. harris (2005)

richard-duane s. chambers (2005)


views updated May 23 2018


Cosmonauts are the Russian counterparts to American astronauts. During the early years of the "space race" between the two superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union, it was the Soviet Union who took the lead. Cosmonauts achieved the records for sending the first human into space, the first space walk, and the first woman in space, Valentina Tereshkova. Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, was honored by the Soviet Union as a hero, and a cosmonaut training center was named after him.

The first cosmonauts underwent similar training, as well as scrutiny, that American astronauts endured. Tests were conducted on everything from stamina to eyesight. Each candidate was required to be in good physical and mental condition. Training itself was strenuous, including simulators for zero-g and spacecraft controls.

Just as many astronauts were selected from the military, most of the early cosmonauts were selected from the Russian Air Force. The first twenty cosmonauts were male and were jet pilots who had passed rigorous medical tests. Later, five female parachutists who passed the same medical tests were admitted to cosmonaut training.

Training programs in the United States and Russia simulate microgravity environments, thrust felt during liftoff, and working in space. Astronauts and cosmonauts both train under water, and train on planes flying parabolas to experience weightlessness. But even though the basic engineering concepts are similar, technology varies. This was apparent when the historical docking and handshake occurred between the astronauts and cosmonauts on an Apollo and a Soyuz spacecraft.

Cosmonaut training before the mission occurs at the Baikonur launch site. Here, cosmonauts perform their final test runs and prepare themselves in simulators. After the training is complete, the cosmonauts will launch inside on a Soyuz spacecraft. These spacecraft are similar to the module-style spacecraft that the United States used during the Apollo space missions. Originally, the destination of the Soyuz transport vehicles was the Mir space station. Soyuz modules are now used for transporting people and equipment to the International Space Station (ISS).

As Russia began to have more problems funding their ISS participation, the first space tourists have been paying millions of dollars and receiving cosmonaut training to visit the ISS. By paying the Russian Space Agency a reported $20 million, American Dennis Tito was able to take a Soyuz spacecraft up to visit the ISS in April, 2001. South African Mark Shuttleworth became the second cosmonaut tourist to visit the ISS the following year.

see also Apollo-Soyuz (volume 3); Civilians in Space (volume 3); Gagarin, Yuri (volume 3); Leonov, Alexei (volume 3); Mir (volume 3); Tereshkova, Valentina (volume 3).

Craig Samuels

Internet Resources

Alexei Arkhipovich Leonov. NASA Headquarters. <>.

Alexei Leonov. NovaSpace. <>.

The Yuri Gagarin Cosmonauts Training Center. <>.

Yuri Gagarin. NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. <>.


views updated May 17 2018

astronaut (Rus. cosmonaut) Person who navigates or rides in a space vehicle. The first man to orbit the Earth was the Russian Yuri Gagarin in 1961. The first man to walk on the Moon was the American Neil Armstrong in 1969. The first woman in space was the Russian Valentina Tereshkova in 1963.;


views updated May 23 2018

as·tro·naut / ˈastrəˌnôt/ • n. a person who is trained to travel in a spacecraft.DERIVATIVES: as·tro·nau·ti·cal / ˌastrəˈnôtikəl/ adj.


views updated Jun 08 2018

Astronauts. See Space Program, Military Involvement in the.

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