Astronauts hold a variety of ranks and positions, and 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.||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 "Doctor of Philosophy" (technically, "Doctor of Science (Sc.D.)") in Space|
|Docking Module Pilot||Deke Slayton, Mercury 7 astronaut||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, maneuvers Shuttle with assistance from Pilot.||John Young, commander of the first Shuttle mission||All Shuttle commanders have prior spaceflight experience. Requires a degree in engineering, biological science, physical science, or mathematics. Must have 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||Assist the Commander in maneuvering the Shuttle. May be 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 are 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 keeps track of information from CAPCOM and calls out milestones.||Story Musgrave, Sally K. 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 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 accompany specific payloads such as a commercial or scientific satellites.||Payload Specialists are non-NASA personnel. The term is 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 are military personnel who accompany 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.|
Russian Federal Space Agency ranks and positions
Russian astronauts are called cosmonauts. 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, 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 spacewalker in history|
|Scientist Cosmonaut||Konstantin Feoktistov, the first engineer in space|
|Doctor Cosmonaut||Boris Yegorov, 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||Svetlana Savitskaya, first female spacewalker|
|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.|
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.
- "Astronauts | Career | Education | Pilot | Commander | Mission Specialist | NASA | Space Shuttle | Flight – Page 1". Kidzworld.com. Retrieved 2012-06-09.
- Bolden, Charles F. (2004-01-06). "Charles F. Bolden". NASA Johnson Space Center Oral History Project (Interview). Interviewed by Johnson, Sandra; Wright, Rebecca; Ross-Nazzal, Jennifer. Houston, Texas. Retrieved 6 January 2014.
- "Astronauts | Career | Education | Pilot | Commander | Mission Specialist | NASA | Space Shuttle | Flight – Page 2". Kidzworld.com. 2008-10-07. Retrieved 2012-06-09.
- "NASA – Space Shuttle Columbia and Her Crew". Nasa.gov. 2006-03-05. Retrieved 2012-06-09.
- McHale, Suzy. "RuSpace – Suzy's Russian space site". Suzymchale.com. Retrieved 2012-06-09.
- Shuttle Commander and Pilot definitions
- Shuttle PLC, MS, and PS definitions