Most likely, you already have a little bit of an idea of what astronauts do. Astronauts work aboard spacecrafts, piloting them into space or working on a special part of a mission!
Further informationWhat's in a name?Although the term “astronaut” is often widely used to talk about someone who works on a spacecraft, the term is sometimes used specific to someone who works for the United States’ space program. Astronauts from the space programs of other countries are sometimes called by their own names; for example, in Russia they are cosmonauts and in China they are Taikonauts!Space history!
Some important dates in the history of space travel:
- April 12, 1961: Yuri A. Gagarin of the Soviet Union becomes the first person to travel in space! Gagarin orbited the Earth once in a Vostok capsule.
- May 5, 1961: Alan B. Shepard, Jr. becomes the first American to travel into space.
- February 20, 1962: John H. Glenn, Jr. becomes the first American to orbit the Earth. Glenn orbited Earth three times!
- March 18, 1965: Alexei A. Leonov of the Soviet Union becomes the first person to step out of a spacecraft and float in space!
- July 20, 1969: American astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin become the first people to ever walk on the moon!
ExplorationHere is how astronaut Brian Binnie answered our questions about his profession:
1. How did you become an astronaut?
There used to be only 1 way to become an astronaut and that was to hope your Government selected you for one of a very few vehicles that make very few flights. Today, only the US, Russia and China Governments have manned space flight programs. The US program is planned to wind down at the end of 2010 leaving only two. Since about 2001 there has been increasing interest by private companies to bypass the Government road blocks and demonstrate their ability to put people in space. The first successful company to do so was Scaled Composites, located in California, and I was fortunate to be a test pilot on that program an earn my Astronaut Wings courtesy of
Burt Rutan and his SpaceShipOne vehicle. Now we are busy putting the finishing touches on Sir Richard Branson's SpaceShipTwo which is designed to carry up to 8 people into suborbital space.
2. What does your typical day look like?You will be disappointed that a typical day for me is all about managing people and activities. There are many facets to building our space program; we have a Mother Ship or carrier vehicle, the space ship, rocket motor development, avionics to design and a simulator to help train the aircrew. Managing the people, money and requirements for all these things is a full time job!3. What is the most exciting thing about your job?The most exciting opportunities are when we get to fly. These vehicles are all new and it is the job of the test pilot to understand them and safely demonstrate their capabilities. From past experience, flying a rocket powered space ship is one of the most challenging and certainly rewarding experiences I have ever had.
William Brian Binnie (born 1953) is a former United States Navy officer of 21 years and is one of the test pilots for SpaceShipOne, the experimental spaceplane developed by Scaled Composites. Currently Brian is working with Virgin Galactic on the SpaceShipTwo.
Sources & links
“Astronaut Requirements.” NASA For Students ”“ Read About It. 13 April 2009. National Aeronautics and Space Administration. 31 Dec. 2009 “How to Become an Astronaut.” 22 May 2009. European Space Agency. 31 Dec. 2009 Oberg, James. "Astronaut." World Book Online Reference Center ”“ Worldbook at NASA. 2005. World Book, Inc. 31 Dec. 2009 Jessa, Tega. “How to become an Astronaut.” 20 September 2009. Universe Today. 31 Dec. 2009