When reading space exploration related articles, I often come across the use of "former" to classify astronaut's status. NASA even puts "former astronauts" as a separate classification on their pages, describing the status as:

Former astronauts are those who have left NASA, including those who are deceased.

This use of "former" seems a bit awkward to me, especially since NASA doesn't really hold any exclusive rights to the use of the word "astronaut". For example, we usually don't call Ernest Shackleton a "former explorer". Deceased yes, but he was a polar explorer. So my question is:

Is "astronaut" an official title, a job description, or a life achievement? Should we use the word "former", and when would it be appropriate to use it?

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ I believe when NASA uses "former astronauts" in such cases, it is a shortened form of "former employees who are/were astronauts". $\endgroup$
    – called2voyage
    Commented Nov 15, 2013 at 19:52
  • $\begingroup$ @called2voyage My question is in essence, if "former astronaut" is an official title/status? If it's a shorthand for "former NASA astronaut", then surely even shorter version would be "astronaut", so why include "former" so often in texts? There must be some official reason for it, a bit like adding "retired" at the end of some other job titles, perhaps? $\endgroup$
    – TildalWave
    Commented Nov 15, 2013 at 20:02
  • $\begingroup$ I would imagine so. $\endgroup$
    – called2voyage
    Commented Nov 15, 2013 at 20:08
  • $\begingroup$ Just as clarification, with "when would it be appropriate to use it" I mean, for example, would that be a formal salutation? $\endgroup$
    – TildalWave
    Commented Nov 15, 2013 at 20:10
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ It seems that NASA defines "astronaut" as someone who currently holds the job title of astronaut: "The question of exactly who is an astronaut is more involved, at least in the U.S. Within NASA, 'astronaut' is a job description for those individuals selected to be members of the Astronaut Corps at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. Once an astronaut candidate completes training, he or she becomes a career astronaut, even before their first space flight." Source $\endgroup$
    – called2voyage
    Commented Nov 15, 2013 at 20:19

1 Answer 1


I believe the use of 'former' is representative of both their employment status and their licensing/qualification status. For instance a internet search for "former pilot" (including quotes) finds several references people who are either former employees and/or who have lost their license.

John Glenn is referenced as a "former astronaut" until the STS-95 mission, where he re-qualifies and is considered a current or active astronaut. Because his qualification for the 1998 flight is now expired he is again a "former".


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