EU. Who is an astronaut? Tourist flights to space cause controversy

As more private companies start selling tickets to travel to space, a question arises: Who can be called an astronaut? ANDIt is a subject that Gets More Complicated As The Rich Acquire Spaceship Seats, and even complete flights for them and their companions.

Amateur astronauts? Space tourists? Rocket pilots? Or as the Russians have said for decades, Spaceflight participants?

The new head of NASA, Bill Nelson, does not consider himself an astronaut even though he spent six days orbiting Earth in 1986 aboard the space shuttle Columbia, as a congressman.

I reserve that term for my professional colleaguesNelson recently told The Associated Press.

Computer game developer Richard Garriott, who paid the Russians to the International Space Station in 2008, hates the label of space tourist. “I am an astronaut,” he stated in an email., explaining that he trained for two years for the mission.

“If you go to space, you are an astronaut”said Michael Lopez-Alegria of Axiom Space, a former NASA astronaut who will accompany three businessmen to the space station in January, flying SpaceX. Its $ 55 million per seat customers plan to conduct research there, he emphasized, and they are not considered space tourists.

On Tuesday, Axiom Space announced a second flight for next year to be run by the Peggy Whitson company., a retired NASA astronaut who has spent 665 days in space, more than any other American. His No. 2 will be John Shoffner, a businessman turned race car driver from Knoxville, Tennessee, who also pays about $ 55 million. “I asked Peggy to throw the book at me in training. Make me an astronaut, ”he said.

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There is something lovely about the word: astronaut comes from the Greek words for star and sailor. And the swashbuckling images of “The Right Stuff” and the Mercury 7 astronauts, original from NASA, are great marketing.

Jeff Bezos’ rocket company, Blue Origin, he already calls his future clients “astronauts”. It is auctioning a seat on its first space flight with people on board, scheduled for July. NASA even has a new acronym: PAM for Private Astronaut Mission.

Mike Mullane, retired NASA astronaut, he did not consider himself an astronaut until his first space shuttle flight in 1984, six years after its selection by NASA.

“It doesn’t matter if you buy a ride or are assigned a ride,” said Mullane, whose 2006 autobiography is titled “Riding Rockets.” Until you tie yourself into a rocket and reach a certain altitude, “you are not an astronaut“.

It is still a coveted assignment. More than 12,000 have applied for NASA’s next astronaut class; a lucky dozen will be selected in december.

But what about the passengers who are on the trip, like the Russian actress and film director who will fly to the space station in October? Or the dazzled billionaire from Japan, who will follow them from Kazakhstan in December with his production assistant accompanying them to document everything? In each case, a professional cosmonaut will be in charge of the Soyuz capsule.

SpaceX’s high-tech capsules are fully automated, just like those from Blue Origin. Then, Should wealthy drivers and their guests be called astronauts, even if they learn to handle them, in case they need to intervene in an emergency?

Perhaps even more important, Where does space begin?

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The Federal Aviation Administration limits its commercial astronaut wings to flight crews. The minimum altitude is 80 kilometers. You have been awarded seven so far; Recipients include the two pilots of Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, who today conducted another test flight of the company’s rocket.

Others define space as starting even 100 kilometers away above sea level.

Blue Origin capsules are designed to reach that threshold and provide a few minutes of weightlessness before returning to Earth. On the contrary, it takes an hour and a half to go around the world. The Association of Space Explorers requires at least one Earth orbit, in a spacecraft, to be a member.

The Astronaut Memorial Foundation honors all those who sacrificed their lives for America’s space program, even if they never made it to space, such as Challenger school teacher Christa McAuliffe and the test pilot who died in a Virgin Galactic crash in 2014. Also in the Space Mirror Memorial at NASA Kennedy Space Center: Air Force X-15 and F-104 pilots, who were part of a military space program that never took off.

The astronaut debate has been around since the 1960s, according to Garriott. His late father, Owen Garriott, was one of the first supposed astronaut-scientists hired by NASA; the test pilots in the office resented sharing the job title.

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

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Mullane, the three-time space shuttle pilot, suggest using 1st class, 2nd class, 3rd class astronauts, “depending on what your stake is, if you take out a wallet and write a check.”

While a military-style pecking order might work, former NASA historian Roger Launius cautioned: “This really gets messy really fast.”

In the end, Mullane pointed out, “Astronaut is not a copyrighted word. So, Anyone who wants to call himself an astronaut can call himself an astronaut, whether he’s been to space or not. “.

AESC

Myrtle Frost

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