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The arrival of routine flights of commercial space passengers to orbit now makes the meaning of the word “astronaut” very unclear

Link here. Up to now the word “astronaut” has generally been applied to anyone who has flown in space, though its use for the previous space tourists has generally seemed inappropriate.

The arrival this fall of regularly and frequent commercial flights carrying private passengers into space raises the question: What do we call these individuals? Some, such as the companies Axiom and Blue Origin, want to call them astronauts. Others, such as previous space tourists Richard Garriott and former senator and now NASA administrator Bill Nelson, think that word should be reserved for the professionals. Think for example of aviation. You don’t get wings by simply flying on a commercial jet. You have to fly a plane yourself, and do it solo to earn that designation.

In truth, the most likely thing that will happen in the future is that no future space traveler will be called an astronaut. As the article notes correctly,

It might be necessary to retire the term altogether once hundreds if not thousands reach space, noted Fordham University history professor Asif Siddiqi, the author of several space books. “Are we going to call each and every one of them astronauts?”

The term is going to become historical, referring not to those who have reached space, but to those early pioneers to made it possible for everyone else. It carries too much special meaning to assign it to every Tom, Dick, or Harry who simply bought a ticket. It signifies a person who did something special and at great risk, and deserves a special honor because of it.

Neil Armstrong and Yuri Gagarin were astronauts. It seems wrong to call every commercial passenger who follows the same.

Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

 
Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

 
The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.

 
He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.

 
Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit. And if you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.

22 comments

  • Kyle

    Like how people who travel via Southwest Airlines are not Aviators but simply just Fliers. I guess people who travel via rockets are Rocketeers?

  • Jay

    I agree, if they are professionals helping out with the flight, like Dennis Tito did, they are astronauts. If they pay and do nothing, they are passengers. If they fly Southwest, they are cattle.

  • John

    Yuri was a Cosmonaut

    I nominate touronaut or orbinaut.

  • Kyle

    I like where John is going. A passenger, is a traveler on a public or private conveyance, other than the driver, pilot, or crew. And keeping with the “-naut” ending for space travel, how about a “passenaut”.

  • Tom

    Naut is the Greek word for sailor which is a profession. Sailors haul cargo and/or passengers or they perform needed maritime services.
    Astronauts are professionals who operate the various systems that sustain the spacecraft and the crafts capability to transport people and commodities.
    Space Passengers are those who merely use spacecraft to get from point A to point B (even if these points are the same).
    We must refrain from giving space passengers the astronaut label.

    Tom

  • Matt in AZ

    How about “astrofliers” for the non-professionals? I know the marketing types won’t be happy with any alternative to the historical term, of course. I expect in the long run we’ll just refer to the highly trained operators as “professional astronauts”.

  • Noah Peal

    If you are trained as a rocket flier, clearly, you are an astronaut. If, on the other hand, you are the space equivalent of baggage, you are a passenger.

  • The FAA calls them spaceflight participants, FWIW. I coined the terms millionaut and billionaut.

  • Kyle

    Last post for me, but how about…

    Viator is Latin for tourist, wayfarer, messenger, traveller, passenger. So use Astroviators for space passengers.

    Then there is also word Voyage, with one definition being a course of traveling by other than land routes. As Oceanliners are a thing of the past, the term Voyager has kind of fallen out of use, other than Star Trek and names of Spacecraft. Why dont we use voyagers for space travelers.

  • Lee Stevenson

    I believe the term “astronaut” should be reserved for astronauts, but there should definitely be a new term coined for the tourists, if only so they get a mission patch and a kind of distinction… Or else what is the point of flashing your cash?

  • Gary in Transit

    Should call a person that goes to space, “It”.
    This is a perfect solution that the Woke can support.

  • Max

    Having fun with this, I looked up random word definitions in other languages.
    Astronaut ( Latin )/ cosmonaut = space sailor
    Naut – The root word for nautical.
    Cosmos Espace = French for outer space
    Danish word for space – rum
    Italian for space – spazio
    Norwegian for heaven – Sky
    My favorite, besides some good ones that others have suggested…
    Latin for “star passenger” – Stellae Vector
    ( Sky vector has a better ring to it)
    Other words like Nirvana, Hemel, Celeste, ect…

    I kind of like the labels that have been used in science fiction novels for 80 years, earthling, Tarryn / terrestrial, tourist. (If the destination is the moon, then they are a Loony)
    NASA is good at coming up with acronyms for the appropriate label for the paying tourist/cargo. (T S F… Temporary space fairer) (PEST – pedestrian earth space transport)

    Colonist, space station technician, base / habitat Engineer will have their own designation as highly trained individuals performing a needed function. But they’re not astronauts. They are SPACERS. (unless they are cross trained to pilot a craft).
    Even then, as more go to space, the astronaut term will become antiquated as a person will want to be defined by what kind of craft they pilot or what planetary body they live on or near. For instance astroid miner will prefer a different label then those from Moon, Mars or the Jovian moons. Just as our armed forces personnel are defined by what branch of the defense industry they trained / served in.
    But to the earthlings, they will “all” be called astronauts or spacers…
    (Extra terrestrial will be reserved for an unusual classification, but just as generic)

  • Max

    “SPACERS”
    I just realized that also could be an acronym. I bet you guys could come up with some great examples.
    “Space passengers accumulating constant excessive regurgitation syndrome”?
    If the military adopts the acronym;
    “Situation phenomenal, all crazy earth residents suck”

  • Mike Borgelt

    I’ll go with “spacers”.

  • Kyle

    I second the notion to go with “spacers”

  • MJMJ

    Do we call politicians like Nelson who bummed a ride on the shuttle “astronauts”. Don’t think so.

  • Jeff Wright

    Spacers is a title for those who work in space…passenger is fine.

    In truth-Kirk is a true Astronaut and Dr. Who a Cosmonaut–esp. if he goes to another universe…fiction-I know….

  • Noah Peal

    Guestronauts

  • wayne

    So, who has seen The Expanse?

  • Voyager woould be a proper term for official/civilized conversation.

    Spacer would IMO be acceptable slang, for casual conversation.

    Astroturfer would be proper when we’re in a cynical mood …

  • Max

    Astroturfer-
    LoL, I literally laughed out loud. I love double entendres and clever usages of common words. It literally implies “space earthling” as well as fake grass or rhino conservative. (plastic roots instead of grass roots / basic principles)

    Not unlike using the “Latin naming tradition” for passenger of “Vector” will be seriously looked at. It is also used in geometry, computing, literature, a name for a robot… But the astronauts will use it’s biological meaning;
    “Vector (epidemiology), an agent that carries and transmits an infectious pathogen into another living organism; a disease vector…”

    The language we’re discussing will most likely only be used by earthlings. People who live in space will by necessity come up with there own terminology as titles and nicknames and function evolve into a new language.

    Astronaut; a “employee” highly trained individual “hired” to do a specialized function or job safely outside earths atmosphere and is well compensated. (Pilot and Crew)

    Astrotech; a “employee”, persons specialized in the repair and maintenance to support the astronaut and the investment. (engineering)

    Spacer; The “customer/employer” who’s only qualification is the ability to “pay” for the service which renders them “outside the atmosphere” for whatever purpose they desire.
    This unique designation allows them the ability to get the “patch” (or buy the T-shirt) giving them bragging rights, introducing them to a exclusive “spacer club” similar to the thrill seeker “mile high club”. (It’s vain and superficial, but it’s all about what’s “trending” with this Kardashian generation)
    Messier’s millionauts will buy passage… The billionauts and their children will buy the spaceship…

    (Then it gets more complicated as workers and their families face off against employers and rich benefactors/ conglomerate consortiums)

    The spacing guild; A union of off worlders protecting themselves and everything they built from the encroachment of rich spacers and their mercenary.

    I would suggest that it’s a good time for someone with money to check to see if the domain name has already been taken…

  • Noah Peal

    If they are going via Spacex, wouldn’t they be Muskateers?

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