When I first read this headline from Ars Technica, I thought “obviously they’re tourists,” but the piece raises interesting questions:
For now, there remains no official word on what to call non-crew members. Are they astronauts, too? Space passengers? Astro-nots? In the hopes of finding a consensus, we put that precise question to the companies, some bonafide NASA astronauts, and some experts in the aerospace community.
My instinct is to argue argue that these people should absolutely not be called astronauts. That distinction should be reserved for those who’ve earned it through a life-long journey of rigorous training specifically geared for space flight.
However, the early consensus is the opposite:
Nicole Stott flew two missions to space, spending more than three months on the International Space Station in 2009, then serving as a mission specialist on space shuttle Discovery’s final flight in February 2011. During her stint on the station, Stott became the first person to paint what she saw out the window while in space. Later, after retiring from NASA, she became a founder of the Space for Art Foundation.
“I think it’s simple: if they get to ‘space,’ they’re an astronaut,” she told Ars. “We’re at a time where the opportunity for traveling to space is opening up to more people. Whether you are traveling to space as a professional who lives and works there or as someone just visiting, it seems the simplest approach is the best.”
Over time, this may need to evolve, she said. When there are many people living, working, and visiting space, there may need to be some distinction between the space professional and the visitor classification. But for now, “astronaut” works for everyone. This seems significant, coming from Stott, who was selected as an astronaut in 2000 and flew into space after nine years of training.
Instead, it looks like the industry is preparing to find new definitions for an influx of a wide variety of space travelers, and that’s incredibly exciting.