Astronaut facts for kids

Kids Encyclopedia Facts
Astronaut Bruce McCandless II using a Manned Maneuvering Unit outside the United States Space Shuttle Challenger in 1984.

An astronaut or cosmonaut is a person who goes into outer space. The Soviet Union and countries that it was friends with used the word cosmonaut. Western countries including the United States said astronaut. Astronauts are also called "taikonauts" in China or "spationaute" in France.

The first person to go into space was a Russian from the Soviet Union. His name was Yuri Gagarin. This happened on April 12, 1961. The first and second people to walk on the Moon were the Americans Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. This happened on July 20, 1969. No astronauts have gone to the moon since 1972. No people have visited any other planets yet.

Astronauts used to go into space using many different ways, but now they only go on the Soyuz and Shenzhou. Several countries have worked together to build an International Space Station where people stay and work in space for long periods of time.

A few countries and companies are trying to make more ways to get people into space. The United States is building a very big rocket called the SLS. Some American companies, like Boeing and SpaceX, are being paid by the United States to make ways for people to go to space.

Space travel milestones

Gagarin in Sweden
Yuri Gagarin, first human in space (1961)
RIAN archive 612748 Valentina Tereshkova
Valentina Tereshkova, first woman in space (1963)
Neil Armstrong pose
Neil Armstrong, first human to walk on the Moon (1969)
Sally Ride in 1964
Dr. Sally Ride, the first American female astronaut (1980s)
Yang Liwei
Yang Liwei, first person sent into space by China (2003)

The first human in space was Soviet Yuri Gagarin, who was launched on April 12, 1961, aboard Vostok 1 and orbited around the Earth for 108 minutes. The first woman in space was Soviet Valentina Tereshkova, who launched on June 16, 1963, aboard Vostok 6 and orbited Earth for almost three days.

Alan Shepard became the first American and second person in space on May 5, 1961, on a 15-minute sub-orbital flight. The first American to orbit the Earth was John Glenn, aboard Friendship 7 on February 20, 1962. The first American woman in space was Sally Ride, during Space Shuttle Challenger's mission STS-7, on June 18, 1983. In 1992 Mae Jemison became the first African American woman to travel in space aboard STS-47.

Cosmonaut Alexei Leonov was the first person to conduct an extravehicular activity (EVA), (commonly called a "spacewalk"), on March 18, 1965, on the Soviet Union's Voskhod 2 mission. This was followed two and a half months later by astronaut Ed White who made the first American EVA on NASA's Gemini 4 mission.

The first manned mission to orbit the Moon, Apollo 8, included American William Anders who was born in Hong Kong, making him the first Asian-born astronaut in 1968.

The Soviet Union, through its Intercosmos program, allowed people from other "socialist" (i.e. Warsaw Pact and other Soviet-allied) countries to fly on its missions, with the notable exception of France participating in Soyuz TM-7. An example is Czechoslovak Vladimír Remek, the first cosmonaut from a country other than the Soviet Union or the United States, who flew to space in 1978 on a Soyuz-U rocket.

On July 23, 1980, Pham Tuan of Vietnam became the first Asian in space when he flew aboard Soyuz 37. Also in 1980, Cuban Arnaldo Tamayo Méndez became the first person of Hispanic and black African descent to fly in space, and in 1983, Guion Bluford became the first African American to fly into space. In April 1985, Taylor Wang became the first ethnic Chinese person in space. The first person born in Africa to fly in space was Patrick Baudry (France), in 1985. In 1985, Saudi Arabian Prince Sultan Bin Salman Bin AbdulAziz Al-Saud became the first Arab Muslim astronaut in space. In 1988, Abdul Ahad Mohmand became the first Afghan to reach space, spending nine days aboard the Mir space station.

With the larger number of seats available on the Space Shuttle, the U.S. began taking international astronauts. In 1983, Ulf Merbold of West Germany became the first non-US citizen to fly in a US spacecraft. In 1984, Marc Garneau became the first of 8 Canadian astronauts to fly in space (through 2010). In 1985, Rodolfo Neri Vela became the first Mexican-born person in space. In 1991, Helen Sharman became the first Briton to fly in space. In 2002, Mark Shuttleworth became the first citizen of an African country to fly in space, as a paying spaceflight participant. In 2003, Ilan Ramon became the first Israeli to fly in space, although he died during a re-entry accident.

On October 15, 2003, Yang Liwei became China's first astronaut on the Shenzhou 5 spacecraft.


Gemini 5 Elliot See water egress training
Elliot See during water egress training with NASA (1965)

The first NASA astronauts were selected for training in 1959. Early in the space program, military jet test piloting and engineering training were often cited as prerequisites for selection as an astronaut at NASA, although neither John Glenn nor Scott Carpenter (of the Mercury Seven) had any university degree, in engineering or any other discipline at the time of their selection. Selection was initially limited to military pilots. The earliest astronauts for both America and the USSR tended to be jet fighter pilots, and were often test pilots.

Once selected, NASA astronauts go through twenty months of training in a variety of areas, including training for extravehicular activity in a facility such as NASA's Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory. Astronauts-in-training (astronaut candidates) may also experience short periods of weightlessness (microgravity) in an aircraft called the "Vomit Comet," the nickname given to a pair of modified KC-135s (retired in 2000 and 2004, respectively, and replaced in 2005 with a C-9) which perform parabolic flights. Astronauts are also required to accumulate a number of flight hours in high-performance jet aircraft. This is mostly done in T-38 jet aircraft out of Ellington Field, due to its proximity to the Johnson Space Center. Ellington Field is also where the Shuttle Training Aircraft is maintained and developed, although most flights of the aircraft are conducted from Edwards Air Force Base.

NASA candidacy requirements

  • Be citizens of the United States.
  • Pass a strict physical examination, and have a near and distant visual acuity correctable to 20/20 (6/6). Blood pressure, while sitting, must be no greater than 140 over 90. There are currently no age restrictions.

Commander and Pilot

  • A bachelor's degree in engineering, biological science, physical science or mathematics is required.
  • At least 1,000 hours' flying time as pilot-in-command in jet aircraft. Experience as a test pilot is desirable.
  • Height must be 5 ft 2 in to 6 ft 2 in (1.58 m to 1.88 m).
  • Distant visual acuity must be correctable to 20/20 in each eye.
  • The refractive surgical procedures of the eye, PRK (Photorefractive keratectomy) and LASIK, are now allowed, providing at least 1 year has passed since the date of the procedure with no permanent adverse after effects. For those applicants under final consideration, an operative report on the surgical procedure will be requested.

Mission Specialist

  • A bachelor's degree in engineering, biological science, physical science or mathematics, as well as at least three years of related professional experience (graduate work or studies) and an advanced degree, such as a master's degree (one to three years) or a doctoral degree (three years or more).
  • Applicant's height must be between 4 ft 10.5 in and 6 ft 4 in (1.49 m and 1.93 m).

Mission Specialist Educator

  • Applicants must have a bachelor's degree with teaching experience, including work at the kindergarten through twelfth grade level. An advanced degree, such as a master's degree or a doctoral degree, is not required, but is strongly desired.

Mission Specialist Educators, or "Educator Astronauts", were first selected in 2004, and as of 2007, there are three NASA Educator astronauts: Joseph M. Acaba, Richard R. Arnold, and Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger. Barbara Morgan, selected as back-up teacher to Christa McAuliffe in 1985, is considered to be the first Educator astronaut by the media, but she trained as a mission specialist. The Educator Astronaut program is a successor to the Teacher in Space program from the 1980s.

Food and drink

An astronaut on the International Space Station requires about 0.83 kilograms (1.83 pounds) weight of food inclusive of food packaging per meal each day. (The packaging for each meal weighs around 0.12 kilograms - 0.27 pounds) Longer-duration missions require more food.

Shuttle astronauts worked with nutritionists to select menus that appeal to their individual tastes. Five months before flight, menus are selected and analyzed for nutritional content by the shuttle dietician. Foods are tested to see how they will react in a reduced gravity environment. Caloric requirements are determined using a basal energy expenditure (BEE) formula. On Earth, the average American uses about 35 gallons (132 liters) of water every day. On board the ISS astronauts limit water use to only about three gallons (11 liters) per day.

Related pages

Images for kids

Astronaut Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.