Astronaut is a designation derived from the Greek words for “star” and “sailor”, commonly applied to a person who has flown in outer space. It is used to refer to those from the United States, Canada, Europe and Japan who travel to space. An astronaut is someone who travels through space, including civilians, who have recently gained access to space travel. An astronaut or cosmonaut is a person trained by a spaceflight program to command, pilot, or serve as a member of the crew of a spacecraft.
The criteria for determining what constitutes a manned spaceflight vary. The Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) defines space flights as any flight at an altitude greater than 100 kilometers (62 miles). In the United States, professional, military and commercial astronauts who travel above an altitude of 80 kilometers (50 miles) receive astronaut wings. On March 14, 1995, astronaut Norman Thagard became the first American to travel to space aboard a Russian launch vehicle, possibly becoming the first American cosmonaut in the process.
The first documented attempt in human history to use a rocket for space flights was made in the 16th century by a Chinese official from the Ming Dynasty, a skilled stargazer named Wan Hu. Wan built a rudimentary vehicle with a sturdy chair and two kites placed with 47 of the largest rockets filled with gunpowder he could find, and had his servants light them while he was sitting in the chair. The resulting explosion presumably killed him. On October 15, 2003, Yang Liwei became China's first astronaut, in the Shenzhou 5 spacecraft.
The first astronauts, both in the United States and the USSR, were usually fighter aircraft pilots, often test pilots, with military backgrounds. At NASA, people selected as astronaut candidates receive a silver pin on their lapel. Once they have flown in space, they receive a golden pin. Astronauts who also have active duty military status receive a special qualification badge, known as an astronaut badge, when participating in a space flight.
The United States Air Force also issues an astronaut badge to its pilots who exceed 50 miles (80 km) in altitude. By convention, a space traveler employed by the Russian Aviation and Space Agency (or its Soviet predecessor) is referred to as a cosmonaut in English texts. The first astronauts were all male; however, since then women have also become astronauts and have made significant contributions to space exploration. In 1980 Cuban Arnaldo Tamayo Méndez became the first person of African descent to fly into space. A device sent into space that travels around the Earth and transmits television, radio and telephone signals from one place to another is known as a satellite. A spacecraft or satellite designed to continuously travel around a planet or other object in space but not to land on it is called an orbiter.
The first human being in space was the Russian Yuri Gagarin, who was launched into space on April 12, 1961 aboard Vostok 1.One example is Vladimir Remek, a Czech who became the first non-Soviet European to travel to space in 1978 on a Russian Soyuz rocket. Until 2003 professional space travelers were sponsored and trained exclusively by governments either by the military or by civil space agencies. Sending a missile, space vehicle, satellite or other object into the air or space; traveling through air or space is known as launching. The first self-funded space tourist was Dennis Tito aboard the Russian Soyuz TM-3 spacecraft on April 28, 2001. In addition several other countries have sent some of their citizens into space in cooperation with one of these countries. A geostationary satellite seems to stay in the same place because it travels at the same speed as the Earth.