There have been a number of paying passengers on orbital missions in the past, and it is likely there will be many, many more in the future, and not only on orbital missions.

I'm thinking that passengers and crew are exclusive of each other, the only other group would be stow-aways.

In the past have all of the above been called astronauts (or equivalent in other languages)? Will this change in the future, when passengers may outnumber the crew? This question got me thinking about the distinction.

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    $\begingroup$ This gets into an argument about definitions. NASA says "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." Many would not agree. $\endgroup$ Mar 12, 2017 at 17:22
  • $\begingroup$ @OrganicMarble I can certainly understand that. Is there a NASA term then for people who travel to, and spend time in space (days, weeks, months) who don't match that criteria? Passenger? Live cargo? Experimental subject? $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Mar 12, 2017 at 17:55
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    $\begingroup$ Taikonaut is not a term used by the Chinese space agency (they use 'astronaut' in English-language communications). The term Taikonaut was invented by some blogger. $\endgroup$
    – Hobbes
    Mar 12, 2017 at 18:03
  • $\begingroup$ @Hobbes duly noted, thanks! I've found this answer just now as well. I'll edit accordingly. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Mar 12, 2017 at 18:10

1 Answer 1


From Wikipedia:

Many private space travelers have objected to the term "space tourist", often pointing out that their role went beyond that of an observer, since they also carried out scientific experiments in the course of their journey. Richard Garriott additionally emphasized that his training was identical to the requirements of non-Russian Soyuz crew members, and that teachers and other non-professional astronauts chosen to fly with NASA are called astronauts. He has said that if the distinction has to be made, he would rather be called "private astronaut" than "tourist".[63] Dennis Tito has asked to be known as an "independent researcher",[citation needed] and Mark Shuttleworth described himself as a "pioneer of commercial space travel".[64] Gregory Olsen prefers "private researcher",[65] and Anousheh Ansari prefers the term "private space explorer".[18] Other space enthusiasts object to the term on similar grounds. Rick Tumlinson of the Space Frontier Foundation, for example, has said: "I hate the word tourist, and I always will ... 'Tourist' is somebody in a flowered shirt with three cameras around his neck."[66] Russian cosmonaut Maksim Surayev told the press in 2009 not to describe Guy Laliberté as a tourist: "It's become fashionable to speak of space tourists. He is not a tourist but a participant in the mission."[67]

"Spaceflight participant" is the official term used by NASA and the Russian Federal Space Agency to distinguish between private space travelers and career astronauts. Tito, Shuttleworth, Olsen, Ansari, and Simonyi were designated as such during their respective space flights. NASA also lists Christa McAuliffe as a spaceflight participant (although she did not pay a fee), apparently due to her non-technical duties aboard the STS-51-L flight.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration awards the title of "Commercial Astronaut" to trained crew members of privately funded spacecraft. The only people currently holding this title are Mike Melvill and Brian Binnie, the pilots of SpaceShipOne.


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