All of this has reignited the debate over who counts as an astronaut and who doesn’t. Most people would agree that the professional astronauts who work for NASA are astronauts. But what about NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, who went to space in 1986 as a member of Congress and has since called himself an astronaut? And what about Bezos, who says he wants to try release your own Blue Origin spaceship one day? Do you have to reach orbit to become an astronaut, or is just crossing the border between Earth’s atmosphere and space enough to earn the title?
In American consciousness, astronauts are seen as almost superhuman, with “the right thingA set of secret qualities that sets them apart from everyone else. The wealthy future astronauts promised they weren’t just going to look out the window; they will donate money from raffles and auctions and help with research on the ISS. But if astronauts become synonymous with billionaires, our high vision of them is sure to return to Earth.
The definition of astronaut has always been a bit complicated. Back in 1958, when NASA was brand new, the agency didn’t know what to call the people it would soon send to space. Officials gathered for brainstorming, a process that involved consulting dictionaries and thesauri and jotting down ideas on a blackboard. “Someone said ‘astronaut’ and someone else said ‘superman’ and another said ‘space pilot’,” Allen Gamble, a NASA psychologist, wrote in a report. trial in 1971. The group liked Mercury, for the mythological messenger of the gods, but it turned out that NASA headquarters had already claimed it as the name of the country’s first space flight. When they came across aeronaut, the term for hot air balloons and other high-flying thieves they decided to go with astronaut, which had previously appeared in science fiction literature.
NASA’s first astronauts were military test pilots. After a few moon landings, the agency began flying scientists alongside them. In the 1980s, with the end of the Apollo and the era of the space shuttle just beginning, NASA introduced two new types of astronauts: mission specialists, astronauts who performed experiments and spacewalks but were not trained to lead the ship, and payload specialists, who were chosen in academia or industry to conduct specific research in space and have received much less training than the other classes. At first, some astronauts bristled with these new categories, especially payload specialists. “There was a reluctance to see them as full-fledged astronauts,” Alan Ladwig, former NASA program director and author of See you in orbit? Our dream of space flight, said. But they accepted it and smiled at the cameras, reserving their opinions on which politicians wanted to try it out, and privately worrying about the teacher who had been chosen as the first “ordinary citizen” to leave.