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Astronaut vs. Cosmonaut — What's the Difference?

By Tayyaba Rehman — Updated on October 26, 2023
An astronaut is a space traveler from the U.S. or allied countries, while a cosmonaut is a Russian or former Soviet Union space traveler.
Astronaut vs. Cosmonaut — What's the Difference?

Difference Between Astronaut and Cosmonaut


Key Differences

Astronauts are individuals trained for space missions by NASA or other Western space agencies. They are often involved in scientific research and exploration. Cosmonauts, on the other hand, are trained by the Russian space agency Roscosmos, or previously by the Soviet space program, primarily focusing on missions related to the International Space Station (ISS) or Russian space objectives.
The term Astronaut is derived from the Greek words "astron" meaning star and "nautes" meaning sailor. It is widely used in the U.S. and other countries with space programs. Cosmonaut comes from the Russian words "kosmos" meaning universe and "nautes" also meaning sailor, reflecting the Soviet Union's early dominance in space exploration.
Astronauts have participated in notable missions like the Apollo moon landings and the Space Shuttle program. Cosmonauts have their legacy rooted in pioneering achievements like Yuri Gagarin's orbit around the Earth and the long-duration missions aboard space stations like Mir.
The training for Astronauts typically involves rigorous physical and technical preparation, along with simulations of space conditions. Cosmonauts undergo similar training, with additional focus on Russian spacecraft and equipment operations.
Both Astronauts and Cosmonauts play crucial roles in international space cooperation, such as joint missions to the ISS. Despite the different titles, their goals of exploration, scientific discovery, and space advancement are fundamentally aligned.

Comparison Chart


U.S. and allied countries' space programs.
Russian or former Soviet Union's space programs.


From Greek: "astron" (star) + "nautes" (sailor).
From Russian: "kosmos" (universe) + "nautes" (sailor).

Notable Missions

Apollo moon landings, Space Shuttle program.
First human in space, Mir space station missions.

Training Focus

Rigorous physical and technical preparation.
Similar training, with emphasis on Russian technology.

Role in ISS

Participation and contribution to ISS missions.
Significant involvement and operation in ISS.

Compare with Definitions


A participant in manned space missions.
The astronaut shared his experiences of living in space.


A Russian-trained space traveler.
The cosmonaut was celebrated as a national hero.


A person trained for space travel.
The astronaut conducted experiments aboard the space station.


A professional in Russian space exploration.
The cosmonaut shared insights from his mission to the ISS.


A traveler beyond the Earth's atmosphere.
As a child, she dreamed of being an astronaut.


A member of a Russian spacecraft crew.
The cosmonauts conducted experiments in zero gravity.


A member of a spacecraft crew.
The astronauts prepared for the spacewalk.


A participant in Soviet or Russian space missions.
The cosmonaut orbited the Earth multiple times.


A trained professional in space exploration.
The astronaut gave a lecture on the challenges of interstellar travel.


A person trained by Roscosmos for space travel.
The cosmonaut trained for years before her first mission.


An astronaut (from the Greek "astron" (ἄστρον), meaning "star", and "nautes" (ναύτης), meaning "sailor") is a person trained, equipped, and deployed by a human spaceflight program to serve as a commander or crew member aboard a spacecraft. Although generally reserved for professional space travelers, the terms are sometimes applied to anyone who travels into space, including scientists, politicians, journalists and tourists."Astronaut" technically applies to all human space travelers regardless of nationality or allegiance; however, astronauts fielded by Russia or the Soviet Union are typically known instead as cosmonauts (from the Russian "kosmos" (космос), meaning "space", also borrowed from Greek) in order to distinguish them from American or otherwise NATO-oriented space travellers.


A Russian or Soviet astronaut.


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


An astronaut, especially a Russian or Soviet one.


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; - a term used by the Soviets and Russians.


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


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


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


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

Common Curiosities

Can women be astronauts or cosmonauts?

Certainly, there have been many notable female astronauts and cosmonauts.

Are astronauts and cosmonauts trained differently?

Yes, they undergo similar but distinct training based on their respective space agencies.

Can astronauts and cosmonauts work together?

Absolutely, they often collaborate on missions like those to the ISS.

What do astronauts do in space?

They conduct scientific research, maintenance, and various missions.

What's the training duration for astronauts?

It varies, but typically several years of intensive training.

Did cosmonauts land on the moon?

No, only American astronauts from NASA's Apollo missions have landed on the moon.

Is "cosmonaut" a Russian word?

Yes, it originates from Russian language terms.

Do astronauts have to be pilots?

Not necessarily, though many have a background in piloting.

Were cosmonauts part of the space race?

Yes, cosmonauts were central to the Soviet Union's efforts during the space race.

Do cosmonauts go on spacewalks?

Yes, cosmonauts participate in spacewalks just like astronauts.

Is the term "astronaut" used globally?

While widely used, some countries have their own terms, like "taikonaut" in China.

What's the main goal of astronauts and cosmonauts?

Their main goal is space exploration and conducting scientific research.

Have astronauts and cosmonauts visited Mars?

No, human missions to Mars haven't occurred yet, as of my last update.

Can astronauts be from any country?

Yes, astronauts can be from any country with a space program or partnership.

What was a major achievement of cosmonauts?

Yuri Gagarin, a cosmonaut, was the first human to orbit Earth.

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Author Spotlight

Written by
Tayyaba Rehman
Tayyaba Rehman is a distinguished writer, currently serving as a primary contributor to As a researcher in semantics and etymology, Tayyaba's passion for the complexity of languages and their distinctions has found a perfect home on the platform. Tayyaba delves into the intricacies of language, distinguishing between commonly confused words and phrases, thereby providing clarity for readers worldwide.

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