Spaceflightnow.com writes to say (Edited to apply my highlights)

"The improvements are rather significant," Kelly said in a NASA interview. "The displays that the cosmonauts and myself ... use to control the vehicle have been upgraded to make flying it easier. It's less operator intensive. But the main and most important change is they have a new, what we would refer to as a flight control computer."

This was in context of the (then) new TMA-M craft which carries a crew of three.

Wikipedia further writes to say about TMA-M

It has an automatic docking system. The ship can be operated automatically, or by a pilot independently of ground control.

In all probability the spacecraft from launch through docking, is controlled by computers. The pilot (or whatever designation applies) is responsible for managing the flight - applying his mind to ensure the flight is nominal, go/no-go decisions. In the absence of dynamic flight surfaces (as in the Space Shuttle) the pilot may, in an emergency, only control the duration & intensity that various rockets fire.

In mind of the cost involved, it seems reasonable to assume the crew must cross-train.

Are all crew on board a space-bound craft (Soyuz, Shenzhou, other craft of that ilk) trained to monitor, and control flight systems in & out of Earth's atmosphere?

For instance, say, an emergency de-orbit (God forbid!) or launch abort, or ...

EDIT: The situation was a little different with the STS aka Space Shuttle which was possessed of a true cock-pit with flight-controls. NASA writes about this to say

Landing-5 minutes

The orbiter's velocity eases below the speed of sound about 25 statute miles from the runway. As the orbiter nears the Shuttle Landing Facility, the commander takes manual control, piloting the vehicle to touchdown on one of two ends of the SLF.

Operations in orbit though (dock/undock/maneuver) would still have been computer controlled, and astronaut managed though.


1 Answer 1


I can't speak for current procedures aboard a Soyuz or Shenzhou. From what I've seen, during launch the middle chair has pretty much all the access to various in-capsule systems (and thus the power and responsibility), though the two side chairs do have some tasks to perform.

Aboard Apollo spacecraft, absolutely; each of the three astronauts trained and cross-trained until they had a basic level of proficiency with the flight controls of all of the associated vehicles of the mission. While each of them specialized in their own mission profile (the CMP, for instance, wasn't expected to spend much time in the LEM), certain mission-critical maneuvers such as S-IVb transposition and docking, LEM/CSM rendezvous, re-entry etc were practiced by all three crewmembers, so that if any crewmember found themselves unable to perform their mission duties, either of the other two could.

In the Shuttle era, roles became more specialized; the Mission Commander, Shuttle Pilot, and a mix of up to 5 more crewmembers divided between mission specialists and payload specialists, depending on the goals of the flight. Between the Mission Commander and Shuttle Pilot, either of the two could do anything that was needed with regard to the Shuttle vehicle itself; if you look at the list of shuttle mission crews, virtually all the MCs, especially of later missions, were the Shuttle Pilot of one or more previous missions, and so these two are effectively pilot and copilot during orbiter maneuvers. The mission specialists are usually exactly that, however these crewmembers were typically chosen from among the astronaut corps; they're astronauts first and scientists second, and they trained for the duties of the specific mission to which they were assigned. As such, I would posit that these crewmembers would be able to perform at least some of the key functions of the orbiter, though I can't find any instance of a mission specialist "graduating" to pilot or MC. Payload specialists, on the other hand, were scientists first and astronauts second; these guys were typically technical leads from the ground staff that designed or built the payload in question, and their only business on the Shuttle is to ensure a successful deployment of that payload. I would not expect any of these guys to get much time in the pilot's seat of the trainer.

  • $\begingroup$ Steve Nagel, at least, started as a shuttle MS and became a pilot and commander. This may have been an anomaly in the selection process re: quotas for pilot astronauts through. There may have been others but he's the one I remembered right away. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steven_R._Nagel $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 18, 2015 at 12:55
  • $\begingroup$ Also, in at least some of the Ascan classes in the 90s, all new astronauts got at least some training in the front seats. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 18, 2015 at 13:27

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