Spaceflight participant

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Spaceflight participant (Russian: Участник космического полёта, uchastnik kosmicheskogo polyota) is the term used by National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Russian Federal Space Agency (RKA) for people who travel aboard space missions coordinated by those agencies who are not part of the crew. The term serves to distinguish tourists and other special travelers from the career astronauts.

While the term gained new prominence with the rise of space tourism, it has also been used for participants in NASA's Teacher in Space program and for people who flew through inter-government agreements such as the Angkasawan program and the Korean Astronaut Program.

Other terms used for space travelers who are not career astronauts include NASA's Payload Specialist and the RKA's Researcher-Cosmonaut.


The Soviet Intercosmos program included participants selected from Warsaw Pact members and later from allies of the USSR and non-aligned countries. Most of these people received full training for their missions and were treated as equals, but especially after the Mir program began, were generally given shorter flights than Soviet cosmonauts. The European Space Agency took advantage of the program as well.

The U.S. Space Shuttle program included payload specialist positions which were usually filled by representatives of companies or institutions managing a specific payload on that mission. These payload specialists did not receive the same level of training as career NASA astronauts and were not employed by NASA, so they were essentially private astronauts.

In the early days of the Shuttle program, NASA was also eager to prove its capability to Congressional sponsors, and Senator Jake Garn and (then-Representative, now Senator) Bill Nelson were both given opportunities to fly on board a Shuttle mission.

As the Shuttle program expanded, the Teacher in Space program was developed as a way to expand publicity and educational opportunities for NASA. Christa McAuliffe would have been the first Teacher in Space, but she was killed in the Challenger disaster and the program was canceled. During the same period a Journalist in Space program was frequently discussed, with individuals such as Walter Cronkite and Miles O'Brien considered front-runners, but no formal program was ever developed.[1][2]

With the realities of the post-Perestroika economy in Russia, its space industry was especially starved for cash. The Tokyo Broadcasting System (TBS) offered to pay for one of its reporters to fly on a mission. For $28 million, Toyohiro Akiyama, was flown in 1990 to Mir with the eighth crew and returned a week later with the seventh crew. Akiyama gave a daily TV-broadcast from orbit and also performed scientific experiments for Russian and Japanese companies.

Since then, the Russian Federal Space Agency has also sold seats to a consortium of British companies for Project Juno, to seven self-funded space tourists, to the Malaysian government as part of a contract to sell military planes, and to the South Korean government as part of the Korean Astronaut Program.

List of spaceflight participants[edit]

Name Nationality Program/Sponsor Flight Date Comments
Christa McAuliffe[3]  United States Teacher in Space Project STS-51-L 28 January 1986 Killed alongside six fellow crew members in the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. Back-up was Barbara Morgan, who was selected in 1998 to train as a Mission Specialist. Morgan finally flew to space aboard STS-118 in 2007, but as a "teacher-turned-astronaut", not a spaceflight participant.
Dennis Tito  United States Self-funded space tourist Soyuz TM-32 / Soyuz TM-31 April 28 - May 6, 2001 First space tourist
Mark Shuttleworth  South Africa Self-funded space tourist Soyuz TM-34 / Soyuz TM-33 April 25 - May 5, 2002 Shuttleworth was the first person with South African citizenship to fly in space.
Lance Bass  United States Corporate-funded space tourist Completed training but seat on Soyuz TMA-1 in 2002 was cancelled after funding fell through.
Gregory Olsen  United States Self-funded space tourist Soyuz TMA-7 / Soyuz TMA-6 October 1–11, 2005
Daisuke Enomoto  Japan Self-funded space tourist Expected to fly on Soyuz TMA-9 in September 2006, but was grounded for medical reasons and seat was given to Ansari.
Anousheh Ansari  Iran /
 United States
Self-funded space tourist Soyuz TMA-9 / Soyuz TMA-8 September 18–29, 2006 Trained as back-up to Enomoto. Was the first person with Iranian citizenship to fly in space.
Charles Simonyi  Hungary /
 United States
Self-funded space tourist Soyuz TMA-10 / Soyuz TMA-9 April 7–21, 2007
Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor  Malaysia Angkasawan program Soyuz TMA-11 / Soyuz TMA-10 10–21 October 2007 Back-up was Faiz Khaleed.
Yi So-yeon  South Korea Korean Astronaut Program Soyuz TMA-12 / Soyuz TMA-11 8–19 April 2008 Back-up was Ko San.
Richard Garriott  United States Self-funded space tourist Soyuz TMA-13 / Soyuz TMA-12 12 October 2008 - 23 October 2008 Back-up was Nik Halik.[4][5]
Charles Simonyi  Hungary /
 United States
Self-funded space tourist Soyuz TMA-14 / Soyuz TMA-13 26 March 2009 - 8 April 2009 Backup was Esther Dyson.[6] Simonyi was the first repeat space tourist.
Guy Laliberté  Canada Self-funded space tourist Soyuz TMA-16 / Soyuz TMA-14 30 September 2009 - 11 October 2009 First Canadian space tourist.[7] Backup was Barbara Barrett[8]
Sarah Brightman  United Kingdom Self-funded space tourist Soyuz TMA-18M / Soyuz TMA-16M September 2015 - October 2015 Space Adventures announced on Oct. 10, 2012, that Sarah Brightman would fly to the International Space Station on an upcoming Soyuz flight.
Vladimir Gruzdev  Russia Political party-sponsored trip Was expected to fly in 2009. The United Russia political party may pay the estimated $25 million for the flight from the party funds.[9]

All eight space tourism trips went to and from the International Space Station on Soyuz spacecraft and were arranged through the space tourism company, Space Adventures.[10]

Other missions[edit]

While not labeled as "spaceflight participants", the following people participated in spaceflight missions under the auspices of special programs outside the professional astronaut corps.

Name Nationality Program/Sponsor Flight Date Comments
Jake Garn  United States US Government STS-51-D 12–19 April 1985 To demonstrate the capabilities of the Space Shuttle, NASA offered a seat to Garn, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee.[11]
Bill Nelson  United States US Government STS-61-C 12–18 January 1986 NASA also provided a seat to Nelson, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.[12] He was originally scheduled to be aboard STS-51-L.
Edward C. Aldridge, Jr.  United States US Government STS-62-A NASA assigned a seat to Aldridge, the Secretary of the Air Force, on mission STS-62-A, the first Shuttle mission scheduled to launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base.[13] After the Challenger disaster, the mission was cancelled and Aldridge never flew.
Toyohiro Akiyama  Japan Tokyo Broadcasting System Soyuz TM-11 / Soyuz TM-10 2–10 December 1990 As an employee of TBS, Akiyama could be considered the first space business traveler.
Helen Sharman  United Kingdom Project Juno Soyuz TM-12 / Soyuz TM-11 18–26 May 1991 Through Project Juno, a consortium of British companies partially funded a seat on a Soyuz flight to Mir (the Soviet Union covered the rest of the cost) in order to put the first Briton into space.[14]

See also[edit]


External links[edit]

  • Charles in Space Charles Simonyi's blog and video blog about his trip to the ISS.