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What Are the Duties of an Astronaut?

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A career as an astronaut is among the most fascinating and imagination-inspiring jobs one can obtain. The astronaut, derived from the Greek words for “space sailor,” is the NASA commander, pilot or mission specialist whose job it is to man space exploration vehicles and launch into outer space. These courageous professionals are often former test pilots, engineers or scientists and are among a selected few that pass the requirements to become astronauts.

Leadership of Crew

Someone must be in charge of the crew. One position on the space flight crew is the astronaut known as the commander. This member of the team is in charge of the vehicle, its crew and the payload as a whole. The commander is held specifically responsible for the safety of the crew and the mission’s success. This person must operate the vehicle with assistance from the pilot and be familiar with all onboard systems.

The commander will assist the crew in deploying equipment into space and using the remote devices for retrieval of satellites and other objects. The commander will spend most of his career in physical training and schooling and only a small percentage of the career in space flight.


Piloting the space shuttle or other spacecraft is the job of the pilot astronaut. The pilot often comes from a military background in test piloting as well and is at the primary controls during launch and re-entry into the atmosphere.

The pilot often acts as the primary navigator for extravehicular remote devices as well as the shuttle itself. The pilot spends much of his time in training and schooling as well, while spending only a fraction of his career in space.

Coordination of Activities

Some astronauts are responsible for coordinating a variety of activities on the spacecraft or space station. These duties are performed by astronauts called mission specialists and may include planning the use of foods, planning crew activities relating to life in space or the mission itself, coordinating the completion of on-board experiments or payload operations.

These astronauts have extensive knowledge of ship systems and specialize in the specifics of a particular mission, hence the title. They are directly in charge of the payload and experiments on the mission.

Extravehicular Activity

Mission specialists are the astronauts who physically leave the confines of the spacecraft and take part in extravehicular activity, also known as EVAs or spacewalks. This unique experience is among the most exciting duties of the astronaut.


Lee Morgan is a fiction writer and journalist. His writing has appeared for more than 15 years in many news publications including the "Tennesseean," the "Tampa Tribune," "West Hawaii Today," the "Honolulu Star Bulletin" and the "Dickson Herald," where he was sports editor. He holds a Bachelor of Science in mass communications from Middle Tennessee State University.

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