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NASA Doesn’t Know Why It Calls People Who Go To Space Astronauts

Saman Javed


NASA Doesn't Know Why It Calls People Who Go To Space AstronautsPA

NASA doesn’t actually have a reason for why it calls people who go to space astronauts, according to one of its historians.

Jennifer Ross-Nazzal, a historian at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, told SuperCluster the agency first started using the term in 1958, the same year NASA was founded.


The term was used in job listings when looking for applicants to enrol in its astronaut programme; however, the reason behind why it was chosen is yet to be disclosed.


Ross-Nazzal told the publication that NASA also considered ‘cosmonaut’ and ‘universe sailor’, but why ‘astronaut‘ took the top spot was never recorded in the agency’s historical documents.

The mystery surrounding the term has sparked a conversation on Reddit, where users have been discussing the link between the sci-fi genre in literature and how it has influenced modern-day space terminology.


The word astronaut, which means ‘star sailor’ in Latin, was first used in English-language fiction by Neil Ronald Jones in The Death’s Head Meteor.

As one user points out, Jones was a pioneer in the sci-fi genre and could have very well contributed to making the word more familiar and recognisable.


Another user also pointed out that the word ‘robot’ was coined by playwriter Karel Capek in the early 1900s. His play, Rossum’s Universal Robots, was about a factory that builds robots to do everyday tasks for humans.


As NASA explains on its website, the term ‘astronaut’ refers to ‘all who have been launched as crew members aboard NASA spacecraft bound for orbit and beyond. The term “astronaut” has been maintained as the title for those selected to join the NASA corps of astronauts who make “space sailing” their career profession’.

Another Reddit user pointed out that the term ‘astronaut’ was also used as the name of a spacecraft in Percy Greg’s 1880 science fiction novel Across the Zodiac: The Story of a Wrecked Record.

PAPA Images

As for why NASA chose astronaut over some of its other options, one person surmised that it’s much easier to say.


‘Just going by what sticks out the most to me, “astronaut” rolls off the tongue so much easier than “cosmonaut” and we lazy,’ they wrote.

Others suggested it could be to distinguish American ‘space sailors’ from other countries. For example, in Russia, those who travel to space are termed ‘cosmonauts’.

‘All American, Astronaut. Makes sense to me,’ one person said. ‘They used the term Astronaut since the term Cosmonaut was associated with the Soviets,’ another said.

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Topics: Science, Astronaut, Astronomy, NASA, Now, Reddit, Russia, Space


  1. Supercluster


Saman Javed
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