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Astronaut vs. Cosmonaut: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Janet White || Updated on October 7, 2023
Astronauts are space travelers from the U.S. and other non-Russian programs; Cosmonauts are Russian space travelers.

Key Differences

Astronaut and Cosmonaut both denote individuals trained and employed to travel or work in space. However, their primary distinction arises from their regional and linguistic origins. Astronaut is a term primarily used by the United States and other countries with non-Russian space programs. In contrast, Cosmonaut is exclusively used by Russia and the former Soviet Union to describe their space travelers.
While both Astronauts and Cosmonauts undergo rigorous training to endure the challenges of space, the respective programs might emphasize different aspects based on their mission objectives. For instance, NASA's astronaut training might diverge in some areas from the training that a Cosmonaut receives in Russia's space agency, Roscosmos.
Historically, the space race was a significant event during the Cold War era, with the U.S. (Astronauts) and the Soviet Union (Cosmonauts) in fierce competition to achieve space milestones. Yuri Gagarin, a Cosmonaut, was the first human in space, while Neil Armstrong, an Astronaut, was the first human on the Moon.
Beyond historical and regional nuances, at their core, both terms describe highly trained professionals equipped to navigate, operate, and conduct research in space. Whether you're addressing an Astronaut from the European Space Agency or a Cosmonaut from Russia, you're acknowledging an individual's expertise and dedication to space exploration.

Comparison Chart

Regional Association

Primarily U.S. and non-Russian programs
Russia and former Soviet Union

First Human in Space

American Astronauts followed after the first human milestone
Yuri Gagarin, a Cosmonaut, was the first

Training Agency

NASA, ESA, etc.

Linguistic Origin

From Greek "astron" (star) and "nautes" (sailor)
From Greek "kosmos" (universe) and "nautes" (sailor)

Global Recognition

Universally recognized, but denotes non-Russian programs
Recognized globally, especially for Russian space achievements

Astronaut and Cosmonaut Definitions


A member of a spaceflight crew.
The astronaut prepared for launch at the Kennedy Space Center.


A specialist from Russia in space-related fields.
The cosmonaut's experience in space mechanics was unparalleled.


A professional versed in space research and operations.
The astronaut's expertise in astrobiology was crucial for the mission.


An individual trained by Roscosmos for space missions.
As a cosmonaut, he was skilled in operating the Soyuz spacecraft.


A space explorer representing agencies like NASA or ESA.
The astronaut was proud to represent NASA on the international mission.


A member of Russian spaceflight missions.
The cosmonaut underwent intensive training at Star City.


A trained space traveler from non-Russian programs.
The astronaut conducted experiments aboard the space station.


A representative of Russian space exploration efforts.
The cosmonaut was a symbol of Russia's dedication to space research.


An individual trained to operate spacecraft.
The astronaut meticulously checked all systems before takeoff.


A trained space traveler from Russia or the former Soviet Union.
The cosmonaut celebrated the successful docking with the space station.


A person trained to pilot, navigate, or otherwise participate as a crew member of a spacecraft.


A Russian or Soviet astronaut.


A member of the crew of a spaceship or other spacecraft that travels beyond Earth's atmosphere, or someone trained to serve that purpose.


An astronaut, especially a Russian or Soviet one.


An American space traveler, when contrasted against equivalent terms from other countries such as cosmonaut, taikonaut, spationaut, and vyomanaut.


An astronaut; - a term used by the Soviets and Russians.


(Hong Kong) A person (typically man) working abroad away from their family.


A person trained to travel in a spacecraft;
The Russians called their astronauts cosmonauts


A person trained to travel in a spacecraft; one who travels in a spacecraft; - called in the Soviet Union and Russia cosmonaut.


A person trained to travel in a spacecraft;
The Russians called their astronauts cosmonauts


Was the first human in space an astronaut or cosmonaut?

A cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin.

Which term is used by the European Space Agency?

They use "astronaut."

Which country uses the term "cosmonaut"?

Russia and previously, the Soviet Union.

Are astronauts and cosmonauts essentially the same?

Functionally, yes; both are space travelers, but the terms originate from different regions.

From which languages do "astronaut" and "cosmonaut" originate?

Both have Greek origins; "astronaut" from "astron" and "cosmonaut" from "kosmos," both paired with "nautes" (sailor).

Do astronauts and cosmonauts have the same responsibilities in space?

Generally, yes, though specific roles might vary based on the mission's objectives.

How long does it take to become an astronaut or cosmonaut?

Several years of intensive training, which varies based on the specific program and mission.

Are the spacesuits for astronauts and cosmonauts different?

Yes, depending on the mission and spacecraft, though functionality is similar.

Do astronauts and cosmonauts train together sometimes?

Yes, especially for International Space Station missions.

Did the term "cosmonaut" exist before the space age?

No, it was coined in the context of space travel, much like "astronaut."

Is the training for astronauts and cosmonauts similar?

Broadly similar, but specifics vary based on agency guidelines and mission details.

Can an astronaut fly in a Russian spacecraft?

Yes, and vice versa, especially in collaborative missions.

Can an astronaut be trained in Russia?

Yes, especially if they're participating in joint missions.

Are there other terms for space travelers?

Yes, like "taikonaut" in China.

Are all astronauts and cosmonauts pilots?

No, they can have various roles, including engineers, doctors, and scientists.

Who decides on the titles astronaut or cosmonaut for space missions?

It's based on the agency and country's preference.

Are there cosmonauts in American space missions?

Not typically labeled as "cosmonauts," but Russian space travelers have been part of U.S.-led missions.

Who was the first woman in space?

Valentina Tereshkova, a cosmonaut.

Which agency did the first astronaut represent?

NASA, with Alan Shepard being the first American astronaut in space.

Do astronauts and cosmonauts use the same spacecraft?

Sometimes, like in the International Space Station, but they also have distinct spacecrafts for certain missions.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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