Acta Astronautica (2015): Elsevier Ltd

What is in a name? Perceived identity, classification, philosophy, and the implied duty of the 'Astronaut'.

Sarah Langston, Sarah Jane Pell

Volume 115, October–November 2015, Online 28 May, 2015. Pages 185-194


Various cultural-specific names and labels are assigned to someone who travels to space. Some familiar names include: astronaut, cosmonaut, taikonaut, yu hang yuan (“space navigating personnel”), vyomanaut, as well as citizen astronaut, civilian astronaut, space tourist and spaceflight participant. This paper addresses what is in a name? We ask, what are the philosophical and cultural values that are applied in identifying ‘astronaut’? More importantly, why are we identifying them accordingly by these monikers? What are the implications of these labels, on a social, moral and legal level? Moreover, how do spacefaring individuals identify themselves in comparison with popular perceptions? By identifying selected poetic, cultural and legal definitions and terminologies we seek to answer these questions and highlight relevant distinctions and connections between the contextual spheres and definitions. ‘Intersubjectivity’ is also reviewed as an approach for formulating future categories and definitions of ‘astronauts’. Cumulatively, these terms and definitions serve to address pertinent legal, ethical and social implications and consequences for space-faring individuals at the advent of the Commercial Space Age.


Astronautical terminology; Legal definition; Commercial space law; Astronaut classification; Space sociology


  • We survey the concept and perception of an ‘astronaut’.
  • We provide selected definitions of ‘astronaut’ across cultures.
  • We distinguish the term ‘astronaut’ in four contextual spheres: poetic, cultural, political and legal.
  • We look at the philosophical, legal and ethical implications of the label ‘astronaut’.
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    This paper (22445) was presented during the 64th IAC International Astronautical Congress in Toronto, CA. Copyright © 2015 IAA. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

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