Human spaceflight categories
- Russian cosmonauts
- US astronauts
- Chinese taikonauts
- International astronauts
Our visualisations of human spaceflight currently use five categories (shown above). These categories are not perfect, or absolute, and will cause some people to be unhappy. It is not easy to split the huge variety of astronauts into a manageable number of categories. They have prompted a number of questions:
- Why did you choose these categories?
- Why don't you include a category for ESA?
- Why don't you include space agency X?
- Why is astronaut X listed with nationality Y?
- Why is astronaut X listed as Russian?
- Why don't you use the launch vehicle's owner for the categories?
- Have you forgotten to include Polish astronaut Mirosław Hermaszewski?
Why did you choose these categories?
It is not sensible to have huge numbers of categories as people become unable to tell which is which. We needed to choose a relatively small number of categories. A first, obvious, choice would be to split by space agency. That is problematic as there are far more space agencies than you might realise. The list is really quite big. So, we decided to highlight the "nations" that have their own, governmental, human-spaceflight capabilities. In 2015 those are the US, Russia, and China. It also felt interesting, at least at this point in history, to separate out the commercial spaceflight participants. That then left the less-than-perfect catch-all category of "international" for everyone else. The hope was that this would be few enough to be understandable but enough to show variety.
Why don't you include a category for ESA?
Splitting ESA into its own category seems like a sensible idea but it has knock-on implications. For consistency, the US/Russia/China categories then need to become space agencies. This is fairly straightforward for the US and China but Russia becomes CCCP and a variety of other agencies including Roscosmos. Individuals, especially those from the former Soviet Union, have flown for more than one agency and that would need to be reflected with more complicated symbols/colours. If ESA gets its own category so should JAXA. And ISRO. And...
Why don't you include space agency X?
There are many space agencies in the world. Far more than you might realise. It becomes very hard to interpret the visualisation if they all have to be represented.
Why is astronaut X listed with nationality Y?
Astronauts, like normal people, can have more than one nationality. They can change nationality and they can also have dual (or even triple) nationalities. We have categorized astronauts by either the single nationality they had at time of flight or by the primary nationality they flew under e.g. Piers Sellers was born in Britain, has dual nationality (UK/USA) and flew under a US flag for NASA so is categorized as "US". Richard Garriott was born in the UK, has dual nationality (UK/USA) but flew as a "space tourist" so is in the "Commercial/tourist" category. It is complicated. In the pop-up information boxes, multiple nationalities will be listed if the astronaut has them. We have not addressed the issue of astronauts changing nationalities between flights. If you think a categorization is wrong, let us know along with the reasons you believe that to be the case.
Why is astronaut X listed as Russian?
The former Soviet Union and the subsequent countries that emerged from it cause added headaches when defining a category. If an astronaut flew during the time of the Soviet Union they may be listed under "Russian". They may not. It can depend on the astronaut. Again, if you think someone is mis-categorized, let us know with the reasons why.
Why don't you use the launch vehicle's owner for the categories?
This could seem like a good idea until you have to deal with practicalities. Astronauts do not have a one-to-one relationship with launch vehicles. Astronauts can fly on different rockets operated by different agencies/countries e.g. many astronauts have flown on both the Shuttle and Soyuz. Astronauts can launch on one mission and return to Earth on another and those don't have to be operated by the same agency. The fact that many individual astronauts fly with multiple launch vehicle nationalities would make the resulting visualisation less than clear.
Have you forgotten to include Polish astronaut Mirosław Hermaszewski?
We haven't forgotten him. His nationality is Polish but his birth place is currently within the borders of Ukraine.