Can space tourists call themselves ‘astronauts’? It’s complicated

As more companies start selling tickets to space, a question looms: Who gets to call themselves an astronaut?

It’s already a complicated issue and about to get more so as the wealthy snap up spacecraft seats and even entire flights for themselves and their entourages.

Astronauts? Amateur astronauts? Space tourists? Space sightseers? Rocket riders? Or as the Russians have said for decades, spaceflight participants?

Nasa’s new boss Bill Nelson doesn’t consider himself an astronaut even though he spent six days orbiting Earth in 1986 aboard space shuttle Columbia – as a congressman.

* It’s 60 years since the first American in space and tourists are lining up to follow his cosmic footsteps
* Elon Musk’s SpaceX launches third crew in under a year, flying on a reused rocket
* SpaceX, Nasa give ‘go’ for astronaut launch, third for Dragon

“I reserve that term for my professional colleagues,” Nelson recently told The Associated Press.

Jared Isaacman, Hayley Arceneaux, Sian Proctor and Chris Sembroski are on SpaceX's first private spaceflight.


Jared Isaacman, Hayley Arceneaux, Sian Proctor and Chris Sembroski are on SpaceX’s first private spaceflight.

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

“If you go to space, you’re an astronaut,” said Axiom Space’s Michael Lopez-Alegria, a former Nasa astronaut who will accompany three businessmen to the space station in January, flying SpaceX. His US$55 million-a-seat (NZ$76 million) clients plan to conduct research up there, he stressed, and do not consider themselves space tourists.

On Tuesday, Axiom Space announced a second flight for next year that will be led by the company’s Peggy Whitson, a retired Nasa astronaut who’s spent 665 days in space, more than any other American. Her number two will be businessman-turned-race car driver John Shoffner, of Knoxville, Tennessee, who’s also paying around US$55 million. “I’ve asked Peggy to throw the book at me in training. Make me an astronaut,” he said.

Virgin Galactic completed its third spaceflight and the first-ever spaceflight from Spaceport America, New Mexico.

Virgin Galactic/AP

Virgin Galactic completed its third spaceflight and the first-ever spaceflight from Spaceport America, New Mexico.

There’s something enchanting about the word: Astronaut comes from the Greek words for star and sailor. And swashbuckling images of The Right Stuff and Nasa’s original Mercury 7 astronauts make for great marketing.

Jeff Bezos’ rocket company, Blue Origin, is already calling its future clients “astronauts”. It’s auctioning off one seat on its first spaceflight with people on board, targeted for July. Nasa even has a new acronym: PAM for Private Astronaut Mission.

Retired Nasa astronaut Mike Mullane didn’t consider himself an astronaut until his first space shuttle flight in 1984, six years after his selection by Nasa.

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

It remains a coveted assignment. More than 12,000 applied for Nasa’s upcoming class of astronauts; a lucky dozen or so will be selected in December.

But what about passengers who are along for the ride, like the Russian actress and movie director who will fly to the space station in October? Or Japan’s moonstruck billionaire who will follow them from Kazakhstan in December with his production assistant tagging along to document everything? In each case, a professional cosmonaut will be in charge of the Soyuz capsule.

California millionaire Dennis Tito was the first ever space tourist.

Russian Space Agency/AP

California millionaire Dennis Tito was the first ever space tourist.

SpaceX’s high tech capsules are completely automated, as are Blue Origin’s. So should rich riders and their guests be called astronauts even if they learn the ropes in case they need to intervene in an emergency?

Perhaps even more important, where does space begin?

The Federal Aviation Administration limits its commercial astronaut wings to flight crews. The minimum altitude is 50 miles (80 kilometres). It’s awarded seven so far; recipients include the two pilots for Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic who made another test flight of the company’s rocket ship Saturday.

Others define space as beginning at an even 100 kilometres, or 62 miles above sea level.

Blue Origin’s capsule that the company aims to take tourists into space.

Blue Origin/AP

Blue Origin’s capsule that the company aims to take tourists into space.

Blue Origin’s capsules are designed to reach that threshold and provide a few minutes of weightlessness before returning to Earth, By contrast, it takes 1 1/2 hours to circle the world. The Association of Space Explorers requires at least one orbit of Earth – in a spacecraft – for membership.

The Astronauts Memorial Foundation honours all those who sacrificed their lives for the US space programme even if they never reached space, like Challenger schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe and the test pilot killed in a 2014 Virgin Galactic crash. Also on the Space Mirror Memorial at Nasa’s Kennedy Space Center: X-15 and F-104 Air Force pilots who were part of a military space program that never got off the ground.

The astronaut debate has been around since the 1960s, according to Garriott. His late father, Owen Garriott, was among the first so-called scientist-astronauts hired by Nasa; the test pilots in the office resented sharing the job title.

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

Mullane, the three-time space shuttle flyer, suggests using astronaut first class, second class, third class, “depending on what your involvement is, whether you pull out a wallet and write a cheque”.

US politician Bill Nelson, STS 61-C payload specialist. Now Nasa’s new boss, Nelson doesn't consider himself an astronaut, even though he spent six days orbiting Earth in 1986 aboard space shuttle Columbia.


US politician Bill Nelson, STS 61-C payload specialist. Now Nasa’s new boss, Nelson doesn’t consider himself an astronaut, even though he spent six days orbiting Earth in 1986 aboard space shuttle Columbia.

While a military-style pecking order might work, former Nasa historian Roger Launius warned: “This gets really complicated really quickly.”

In the end, Mullane noted, “Astronaut is not a copyrighted word. So anybody who wants to call themselves an astronaut can call themselves an astronaut, whether they’ve been in space or not.”


Comments: 9

  1. Domaine de Léveno

    Camping Domaine de Léveno is located just outside the pleasant walled town of Guérande where salt extraction is an important source of income. According to experts, this 'fleur de sel de Guérande' is the best salt available. Moreover, the campsite is only 5 kilometers from the most famous beach in the south of Brittany: la Baule. Advice: do not show the pictures of the pool of Domaine de Léveno to your children because then it is a foregone case they want to go to this summer. The water park is truly a children's paradise with its winding slides, a water playground and a wave pool.

    Water, water, water Children pay attention! Boredom is impossible in the water park. The first day you will hardly know what to choose. First try all the slides? Did you know that one slide even passes under a 'city wall'? Do you think you manage to stay in the waves of the wave pool? Have you already seen the water playground? See if you can catch the rays! Of course you can also relax with the river flow ... What are you going to do today? Jump on one of the inflatables, do crafts, pet animals at the petting zoo, play football or do you get your parents to go to the beach? Your parents will entertain themselves anyway because apart from swimming and lazing on the side they can play tennis or chat with other parents at the bar. And in the evening, of course, you all together eat in the restaurant and watch an evening performance. You can go to bed later in the holidays.

    South Brittany, Pays de la Loire or Vendée? Officially, Domaine de Léveno is located in the Vendée, part of the Pays de la Loire, the beach of La Baule is back in South Brittany, and so it's the best of the 3! To begin with, you must of course explore Guérande. The walled part of this town is popular with tourists and not for nothing! On the square there is a covered market every day and on Saturday there is a large market for a nice stroll around. Tip: buy a souvenir from fleur de sel de Guérande. It is sold in all kinds of beautiful packaging, but also the sweets and caramel (with salt) are delicious and fun as gifts. If you fancy a day trip to a beautiful city, drive to Nantes the hometown of Jules Verne. The atmosphere of his books can be found in 'Les Machines de l'île', unforgettable!

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  2. Centro Vacanze Verde Azzurro

    Centro Vacanze Verde Azzurro, in Le Marche, offers you a tremendous amount of water fun for the entire family! The park offers an aqua park of 2.5 hectares with slides, a Grand Canyon River, hydromassage, a lagoon, children's play equipment and, of course, a completely separate children's pool that is also suitable for the very youngest children. The park also has a variety of sports facilities and restaurants. The park lies in tranquil surroundings with a great deal of nature. You can, for example, go mountain biking or visit one of the many beautiful cities, such as Sirolo. This holiday park in Le Marche is ideal for families with children and nature and culture lovers! 

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    Centro Vacanze Verde Azzurro holiday park facilities
    Do you and your children love swimming? If so, this holiday park will be a paradise for you! The facilities include:
    • An enormous 2.5 ha aqua park
    • A separate children's pool

    Alongside all this water fun, the holiday park offers much more enjoyment as well. For example:
    • Fitness, cycle hire and horse riding
    • Children's amusement programme
    • Children's playground

    Have you worked up an appetite after all these activities or excursions? If so, the holiday park offers you a choice from no less than places for a meal. You can visit one of the 3 restaurants, order an Italian pizza at the pizzeria or collect a snack from one of the 2 snack bars.

    Your stay at Centro Vacanze Verde Azzurro
    The holiday park's most conspicuous characteristic is its combination of tranquillity and the enormous aqua park laid out in the hills. You stay in a comfortable bungalow during your holiday. The bungalows' facilities include a private patio with garden furniture - a great place to relax and enjoy the outdoors. The bungalows are also equipped with air-conditioning, a welcome facility on hot summer nights. Barbecues can be loaned from reception. Click the 'view the bungalow' tab for more information.

    Centro Vacanze Verde Azzurro holiday park's surroundings
    The holiday park is located in the Le Marche region, known as ‘The undiscovered Tuscany’, a region that has yet to be inundated by tourists. The green hills, sunflower fields, cypresses and olive trees confirm you are in Italy! The surroundings are tranquil and you have every opportunity to enjoy the region's beauty. You can rent a mountain bike and explore the landscape on a sporty two-wheeler. The closest town is Cingoli, just 8 km from the park, where you can visit the local market. Other interesting destinations for an excursion include Appignano, Jesi, Montecassiano, Recanati and Loreto. And how about a visit to the lively town of Sirolo and sea port town of Ancona on the Adriatic coast? A 55 km drive brings you to the coast and the beaches awaiting your arrival.

    Come to Centro Vacanze Verde Azzurro for a holiday pac...
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  3. Hippocampe

    Campsite Sunelia L'Hippocampe is located in a lovely spot at the Durance river, in the heart of the Haute Provence. An 11 hectares oasis of peace and quiet amidst olive and cherry trees with a view to the Provencal Mountains. Due to the strong current, the durance river is not suitable for swimming, but at L'Hippocampe you can cool down in the spacious aqua park with slides and a paddling pool. The entertainment team organises many activities for all ages. The campsite even has it's own disco, located under the ground so as not to disturb your peace. The Haute Provence region is very popular with tourists, it offers the best of everything, mountains in the east, lavender fields in the south, a stunning variety of local dishes prepared by the chef of the restaurant on the campsite. It also has charming cities such as Sisteron, best known for it's citadel and Digne Les Bains which is famous for it's hot springs.

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  4. Le Bois Fleuri

    At Camping Le Bois Fleuri, action and peace are perfectly united. If you want to enjoy the real France with your whole family, do it in Argelès-sur-Mer with the overwhelming Pyrenees at your feet! Forests, mountains and shimmering beaches ... the terraced campsite Le Bois Fleuri is bustling ... there is something going on here all day. Le Bois Fleuri guarantees a successful holiday! 

    Water fun and beautiful sandy beaches [/ h] Le Bois Fleuri is located just outside the centre of Argelès-sur-Mer, with the free shuttle train you will be taken to the Mediterranean Sea. And a day at the campsite is also a great plan. A ball on the tennis court, the children under the pans with their friends in the mini club. Or an afternoon in the water park. Under the waterfalls the children cool down while you enjoy the sun on the terrace. Dream away at the amazing view of the Pyrenees and do not forget to treat yourself to an ice cold beer or a good glass of wine! Excellent wine and fresh fish are standard on the menu of the campsite restaurant. And the campsite is provided with festive lighting every evening. Tasty dining with the whole family or singing along with the latest summer hits, at Le Bois Fleuri it's a party every night! Carcassonne, Perpignan and Pic du Canigou
    [/ h] The medieval fortified town of Carcassonne lies between the Pyrenees and the Montagne Noire. The citadel or as the French call it 'La Cité de Carcassonne' is a real attraction for tourists. This medieval city has been preserved and restored to a large extent. Worth the effort! In 2008 Perpignan was declared official capital of Catalan culture. For the Catalan feeling you are definitely in the right place here. You cannot ignore the holy mountain Pic du Canigou when you enjoy your holiday at Le Bois Fleuri. The Languedoc-Roussillon is beautiful!

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  5. Domaine La Yole

    Camping Domaine de la Yole is an extremely multi-faceted top campsite. This flagship campsite in Valras-Plage amongst other things offers a water park with slide, an exuberant animation team, although a relaxing siesta in the shade of the beautiful oleander shrubs is also an enticing option here. This is an ideal holiday destination for the whole family. Do not delay and book this holiday in Languedoc-Roussillon by visiting!

    The facilities at Camping Domaine de la Yole The wide range of activities that the entertainments team at Domaine de la Yole is able to offer you is almost impossible to summarise. To give you a small idea, there is aerobics, karaoke, sports competitions and dance evenings. In addition, the campsite has even more to offer such as:
    • Swimming pool with separate paddling pool for children and a water park with slide
    • Bar, restaurant and snack bar
    • Wine tasting

    Let's not forget the range of leisure and sports facilities either, including:
    • Karting circuit
    • Cycle hire
    • Trampoline

    You can also visit the supermarket for all of your day-to-day shopping requirements. As you can, of course, start the day with warm bread rolls from the bakery.

    The area surrounding Camping Domaine de la Yole The site lies on the outskirts of the popular Valras-Plage, 10 minutes' walk from the sea and the beach. This popular resort offers a range of activities for tourists, such as wine festivals and dance festivals. The hinterland of Valras-Plage, with places such as Narbonne, Montpellier and Béziers is rich in history and culture.

    Great fun is guaranteed at Camping Domaine de la Yole in the Languedoc-Roussillon! Enjoy sun, sea and sand with the whole family, young and old alike: at Camping Domaine de la Yole you are guaranteed the very best holiday in France to suit everyone.

    Spoken languages: add German (also English ,French and Dutch)

    Add: WIFI, against payment

    Supermarket 19/04 - 20/09

    Entertainment club is for kids 5-12 years old and open ca. 27/04-20/09

    Activities/entertainment: ca. 27/04-21/09

    Please note: We are offering any day arrivals for this campsite, you are required to leave the accommodation neat and tidy after your stay

    ** All Happy standard accommodation comes with disposable linen (if you choose this) **
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  6. Weekend

    Camping Weekend has a fantastic pool with stunning views and provides fun for all ages. With dance and fitness in the pool or the Saturday morning markets in San Felice there is something for everyone. You can visit the city of Verona, the villages of Salo, Desenzano, Sirmione or the local farmer for delicious olive oil and wine.

    • Fun games
    • Crafts
    • Mini disco
    • Sports fields
    • Table tennis
    • Bike hire

    Find romance on Lake Garda Stroll among the olive trees with panoramic views over the beautiful blue water. As night falls, the lights shine on to the villages and it is magical! You can trek through the forest path to the pebble beach on Lake Garda whilst admiring the beautiful olive trees which have been here forever overlooking the bay of Salò. This is one of the most beautiful places on Lake Garda and it was actually discovered by tourists. Just as well, because camping is fantastic here.

    Swimming Fun With a great view from the pool you can see the lake through the trees. Find a place under the sun umbrellas and palm trees on the lawn and let the kids try the slide and have fun under the waterfalls.

    Cooking or eating out? Of course you can eat at the wonderful campsite restaurant or buy your supplies from the on-site supermarket and fire up the barbeque! or maybe grab a pizza from the takeaway. Visit the luxurious town of Salo and 'see and be seen' on the trendy Lungulago Zanardelli! After dinner, the children can have a go on the mini train before they start dancing at the disco. The popular mascot dog Spotty appears regularly for a photo shoot.

    Idyllic villages The villages are beautiful with narrow alleys, old churches and castle ruins where you will find ideal picnic spots. In the harbour of Portese you can eat, soak up the sun and enjoy the magical view of the illuminated Salo.

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  7. Le Jard

    If you are looking for a family campsite with a long golden sand beach, Camping Jard in La Tranche-sur-Mer is a good choice. Here lies 13 kilometres of sandy beach with the justified nickname: small California. And with the nature park Marais Poitevin next door and nice French places in the neighbourhood, the Vendée is ready to be discovered by you...

    Splashing, playing, eating and exercising Whatever your water fun, at Camping Le Jard, you will find it guaranteed. A paddling pool with a real water slide, an outdoor pool for one of the many sunny days of the Vendée, an indoor pool for the cooler days in the low season, a jacuzzi and of course the sea on that beautiful long sandy beach. For children from the age of 5, the animation team organises treasure hunts, sport competitions and tinkering hours. And of course the ball pit remains a favourite with the little ones! Do you want to work on your body after all those tasty snacks in the restaurant or the takeaway meals? You can do that with fitness, tennis or rent a bike, the Vendée is ideal for this: a flat alternating landscape, quiet roads and as a bonus, (mostly) wonderful weather.

    La Venise Verte If you stay so close to the nature park Marais Poitevin (la Venise Verte), you will of course take a boat trip through this pristine swamp area; on your own with a canoe, rowing boat or with a guide. A guide has the advantage that it points to the different dragonflies, birds, fish and sometimes even otters. Moreover, guides know the most beautiful places and tell everything about the origin of the channels dug by people. Because the trees hang over the water you have enough shade to go during the day, but you really want to enjoy nature sounds and avoid the tourists, then you can best go early in the morning or in the evening. And how about a day trip to the port city of La Rochelle? The harbor, the old town around the covered market (Les Halles) or shopping in the shops under the arcades (Les Arcades), in the shade. Be sure to plan a whole day to explore this city at your leisure. A beach holiday plus a beautiful environment? Book Camping Le Jard at La Trance-sur-Mer!
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  8. Pious Pilgrims, Discerning Travellers, Curious Tourists: Changing Patterns of Travel to the Middle East from Medieval to Modern Times

    Format: Paperback / softback
    Length: 422 pages
    Publication date: 12 November 2020
    Publisher: Archaeopress

    This volume comprises a varied collection of seventeen papers presented at the biennial conference of the Association for the Study of Travel in Egypt and the Near East (ASTENE) held in York in July 2019, which together will provide the reader with a fascinating introduction to travel in and to the Middle East over more than a thousand years.

    Weight: 908g
    Dimension: 161 x 229 x 27 (mm)
    ISBN-13: 9781789697520

    MPN: 9781789697520
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  9. 4 Figure Trick: The book for non-financial managers - How to deliver financial success by understanding just four numbers in business

    Format: Paperback / softback
    Length: 160 pages
    Publication date: 18 March 2021
    Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton General Division

    Forget the idea that financial management is complicated. This book will show you how to make financially sound business decisions using just four numbers - and fast.

    Weight: 168g
    Dimension: 136 x 214 x 18 (mm)
    ISBN-13: 9781529343717

    MPN: 9781529343717
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