Astronauts hold a variety of ranks and positions. Each of these roles carries responsibilities that are essential to the operation of a spacecraft. A spacecraft's cockpit, filled with sophisticated equipment, requires skills differing from those used to manage the scientific equipment on board, and so on.
NASA ranks and positions
Members of the NASA Astronaut Corps hold one of two ranks. Astronaut Candidate is the rank of those training to be NASA astronauts.
Upon graduation, candidates are promoted to Astronaut and receive their Astronaut Pin. The pin is issued in two grades, silver and gold, with the silver pin awarded to candidates who have successfully completed astronaut training and the gold pin to astronauts who have flown in space.
Chief of the Astronaut Office is a position, not a rank.
|Pilot||Overall mission success||Mercury Seven||As a single-seat spacecraft, the astronauts who flew the Mercury missions were referred to simply as "Pilots". Mercury Pilots were required to have experience as a pilot of high-performance jet aircraft and to be no more than 5 feet 11 inches (180 cm) tall and weigh no more than 180 pounds (82 kg).|
|Command Pilot||Overall mission success, safety of crew and spacecraft||James McDivitt||McDivitt was the first rookie Command Pilot.|
|Pilot||Serves as systems engineer, copilot, and would perform any other mission objectives such as EVA's during the Gemini program.||Ed White||White was the first American who made an EVA (extravehicular activity).|
|Commander||Overall mission success, safety of crew and spacecraft, pilot in command of spacecraft during launch, trans-lunar coast, and Earth return coast. Also pilot in command of the Apollo Lunar Module. The commander would make the actual descent and landing of LM on the lunar surface, as well as the lunar ascent back to the orbiting CSM.||Neil Armstrong, first man on the Moon|
|Command Module Pilot||Responsible for knowing the CSM and their systems fully. Serve as flight engineer during launch phase while commander would be in full control of the vehicle. Perform navigation and mid-course correction procedures during trans-lunar and trans-Earth phases of flight, command pilot of CSM during lunar orbit phase (when the mission commander is in control of the lunar module from separation phase until the LM docked back with CSM in lunar orbit). The CM pilot would also have other objectives during lunar orbit phase such as lunar photography, research and study for future landing sites for subsequent Apollo missions, deploy lunar satellite in some cases, as well as being responsible for relaying messages from mission control if radio contact with the LM was lost or weak, and also responsible for performing an orbital rescue with the LM if it were to malfunction and not be able to perform as needed to rendezvous with CSM as planned for in normal cases, but this never was needed. However, the CM pilot was responsible for docking the two ships together when the LM returned to orbit after being on the surface. On later J-series missions, the CM pilot would conduct an EVA on the return voyage to collect film canisters in the SIM bay.||Michael Collins,
Backup CMP: William Anders
|Lunar Module Pilot||Flight engineer of Apollo Lunar Module during descent and ascent of the LM also responsible for its systems during all phases of flight between Earth and Moon. The LMP would callout key information to the commander during the most critical descent and landing phases when all of the commander's attention would be focused out the window and on visually flying the LM to a suitable landing spot on the surface. He would also control the navigation computer and other subsystems of the craft while the commander had hands on the controls to fly the ship down manually the last portion of the descent when manual control was taken over from the computer.||Buzz Aldrin, second man on the Moon
Backup LMP: Fred Haise
|Aldrin was the first person in space with a doctorate|
|Docking Module Pilot||Deke Slayton, Mercury 7 astronaut,
Backup DMP: Jack Lousma
|Position only used once during Apollo–Soyuz joint mission|
|Commander||Overall mission success, safety of crew and spacecraft||Pete Conrad, first Skylab commander|
|Pilot||Paul J. Weitz|
|Science Pilot||Joseph P. Kerwin, first American physician in space|
|Commander||Overall mission success, safety of crew and Shuttle, maneuvered Shuttle with assistance from Pilot.||John Young, commander of the first Shuttle mission||All Shuttle commanders had prior spaceflight experience. Required a degree in engineering, biological science, physical science, or mathematics. Must have had at least 1000 hours flying experience on a jet aircraft, and at least 750 simulated landings in the Shuttle Training Aircraft. Must pass a NASA Class I space physical to be certified for flight.|
|Pilot||Assisted the Commander in maneuvering the Shuttle. May have also been responsible for release and recovery of satellites.||Robert Crippen, flew the first Space Shuttle mission as pilot||Same education and flight experience requirements as a Commander, but does not need prior spaceflight experience.|
|Payload Commander (PLC)||A Mission Specialist with additional responsibility for the management of the science or other major payload elements of the mission.||Story Musgrave, Michael P. Anderson||Payload Commanders were always NASA astronauts.|
|Mission Specialist (MS)||A NASA astronaut assigned to a Shuttle crew with mission-specific duties.||Jerry L. Ross and Franklin Chang-Diaz each flew seven times as Shuttle Mission Specialists.||Must pass a NASA Class II space physical to be certified for flight.|
|Flight Engineer||A Mission Specialist with additional responsibility of assisting the Pilot and Commander. The FE also kept track of information from CAPCOM and called out milestones.||Story Musgrave, Sally Ride, Michael P. Anderson||The FE is always mission specialist 2 and sits in the S4 seat on the Shuttle flight deck.|
|International Mission Specialist||Same as mission specialist but may have had payload-specific duties assigned by home agency.||Hans Schlegel|
|Educator Mission Specialist||Same as mission specialist but with additional education-related duties.||Joseph M. Acaba, first Puerto Rican astronaut||Position created in 2004 as part of the Educator Astronaut Project.|
|Payload Specialist||Technical experts who accompanied specific payloads such as a commercial or scientific satellites.||Payload Specialists were non-NASA personnel. The term was also applied to representatives from partner nations such as Saudi Arabia and Mexico who were given the opportunity to fly on the Space Shuttle.|
|USAF Manned Spaceflight Engineer||Same as payload specialist, but were military personnel who accompanied military payloads.||Gary Payton||Payton and William A. Pailes were the only Manned Spaceflight Engineers to fly before the program's termination in 1988.|
|Spaceflight Participant||People who travel aboard space missions coordinated by those agencies who are not part of the crew.||Christa McAuliffe, Teacher in Space, Space Shuttle Challenger disaster||This term serves to distinguish tourists and other special travelers from the career astronauts.|
|Commercial Crew Program|
|Spacecraft Commander||Overall mission success, safety of crew and spacecraft, manages ascent and entry||Douglas G. Hurley, Demo-2|
|Joint Operations Commander||Manages rendezvous, docking, and undocking with the ISS, and quiescent operations while docked||Robert L. Behnken, Demo-2||Position only used once during the Demo-2 mission.|
|Pilot||Assist the Spacecraft Commander in maneuvering the capsule.||Victor Glover, Crew-1||Used on NASA contracted Crew Dragon flights starting with Crew-1.|
|Mission Specialist||A NASA or affiliated astronaut with mission-specific duties.||Soichi Noguchi, first Crew Dragon Mission Specialist,||Used on NASA contracted Crew Dragon flights starting with Crew-1.|
Roscosmos and Soviet space program ranks and positions
Cosmonauts are professional space travellers from Russia. After initial training, cosmonauts are assigned as either a test-cosmonaut (космонавт-испытатель, kosmonavt-ispytatel') or a research-cosmonaut (космонавт-исследователь, kosmonavt-issledovatel'). A test-cosmonaut has a more difficult preparation than a research-cosmonaut and can be the commander or the flight engineer of a spacecraft, while a research-cosmonaut cannot.
Higher ranks include pilot-cosmonaut, test-cosmonaut instructor, and research-cosmonaut instructor.
Pilot-Cosmonaut of the Russian Federation is a title that is presented to all cosmonauts who fly for the Russian space program.
|Pilot Cosmonaut||Overall mission success||Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space||As a single-seat spacecraft, the cosmonaut who flew the Vostok missions were referred to simply as "Pilot Cosmonauts".|
|Commander||Overall mission success, safety of crew and spacecraft||Vladimir Komarov, commanded the first multi-person flight|
|Second Pilot||Alexei Leonov, the first person to perform a spacewalk|
|Scientist Cosmonaut||Konstantin Feoktistov, the first engineer in space|
|Doctor Cosmonaut||Boris Yegorov, the first doctor in space|
|Commander||Overall mission success, safety of crew and spacecraft||Vladimir Dzhanibekov, commander of missions to Salyut 6 and Salyut 7 space stations|
|Flight Engineer||One or two flight engineers per mission. Assist Commander and perform mission-specific duties||Svetlana Savitskaya, the first female to perform a spacewalk|
|Spaceflight Participant||No official duties||Term used for Soyuz passengers who are not part of the crew, and serves to distinguish tourists and other special travelers from the career astronauts.|
China National Space Administration positions
Similarly to NASA, members of the China National Space Administration (CNSA) hold one of two ranks. Astronaut Candidate is the rank of those training to be CNSA astronauts. The positions of Spacecraft Pilot, Flight Engineer, and Mission Payload Specialist were listed in the announcement for the Group 3 selection.
Upon graduation, candidates are promoted to Astronaut.
|Commander (指挥长)||Overall mission success, safety of crew and vehicle||Yang Liwei, Shenzhou 5 (first crewed Shenzhou)||TBA|
|Flight Engineer (操作手/飞行工程师)||Overall mission success, science||Nie Haisheng, Shenzhou 6 (first two-person Shenzhou)||TBA|
|Orbital Module Astronaut||TBA||Liu Boming (astronaut), Shenzhou 7 (first three-person Shenzhou)||TBA|
|Descent module monitor astronaut||TBA||Jing Haipeng, Shenzhou 7 (first three-person Shenzhou)||TBA|
|Operator||TBA||Chen Dong (astronaut), Shenzhou 11||TBA|
|Payload Specialist (载荷专家)||Non-professional astronaut position responsible for scientific experiments and space exploration||TBA||TBA|
International Space Station positions
|Commander||Overall mission success, safety of crew and Station.||Peggy Whitson, first female commander|
|Flight Engineer||Overall mission success, science||Robert Thirsk, first Canadian astronaut to be part of an ISS expedition|
|Science Officer||Primary responsibility for station's science experiments. A secondary position for an ISS Flight Engineer.||Peggy Whitson, first science officer||Position established in 2002 by NASA to reinforce science aspect of ISS.|
|Spaceflight Participant||No formal duties.||Anousheh Ansari, first female space tourist||Term used for ISS visitors who are not part of the crew, and serves to distinguish tourists and other special travelers from the career astronauts.|
- NASA Astronaut Groups – the phases of astronaut selection
- Joe Engle flew on STS-2 without prior NASA spaceflight experience, but had flown the X-15 into space and had participated in the Shuttle Approach and Landing Tests.
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