I'm sure people who build airplanes have had a chance to fly in the planes they build, and I'm confident that people who build submarines may get a chance to travel in them too. But I am under the impression that the people who build spaceships may never get a chance to actually travel in the vehicle they built.
So has anyone who had a hand in constructing a space vehicle actually had a chance to travel into space in the spaceship they helped build?
-- Edit: Clarification of "helped build"
(Too long? Skip to the boldface at the bottom.)
Forgive my wordiness, but I appreciate that it has turned out to be extremely difficult to answer this question because the term “helped build” is not rigorously defined. Furthermore, space vehicles are very complex beasts, with millions of parts, some of are not unique to space vehicles. The fact is that a team of thousands of people contribute to the mission, and those that earn the title of astronaut along the way may have also contributed in a variety of subtle ways to that team and therefore to the overall mission which includes building the vehicle.
It’s hard to put a finger on exactly which kinds of contributions are most in the spirit of “built the vehicle”. I’m sure every contributor will claim that they couldn’t have built it alone, and that every team member’s contributions were important – critical even. I do not want to come across as thinking any less of any individual contributor. A traditional shout out often goes to the person who “sweeps the floors” as being just as critical as everyone else – and I believe this too. We’re all in this together.
“Did you build it?” is indeed a complex question full of nuance and ambiguity. So be clear in your answer what the contribution of the astronaut was. Each person will be their own judge of what is the most compelling contribution. But the yes/no answer to “did the astronaut help” is clearly not going to be the right way to address this question for reasons that have become evident in the comments: the definition of "helped build" can be broadened in most cases to encompass just about any team member including the astronauts themselves.
I absolutely love reading about all the contributions that humanity's space travellers have made to building the vehicles that put them above the Kármán line. Thanks for sharing that here, but allow me to offer a more tightly constrained qualification for an objective answer.
Here’s the litmus test I would apply: If a child saw the astronaut making their contribution to the vehicle, would the child be likely to describe that contribution as “building the spaceship”. The few young people I’ve consulted about this have responded by saying they expect someone who “helped build it” to be seen putting pieces of it together and I think that best guides the spirit of this question.