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Author Topic:   Origin of "Astronaut"
SpaceCat
Member

Posts: 151
From: Florida, US
Registered: May 2006

posted 08-12-2007 09:42 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for SpaceCat     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I was getting caught up on episodes of "The Space Review" today and enjoying Dwayne Day's analysis of the 1953 movie, "Project Moonbase," co-written by Robert Heinlein. One phrase in parenthesis jumped out at me:
(the term "astronaut" had not yet been coined)
This led me on a brief search of the web and my own library with conflicting results. "Astronaut" does not appear in my 1959 edition of Webster's Dictionary; but it does appear in my 1958 Thorndike-Barnhart Dictionary. One on-line etymology dictionary says it orginated between 1925 and 1930, probably from the French 'astronautique'; another says it was "coined in 1929 but popularized in 1961." (Wrong! Our Mercury 7 were selected in April 1959.) "Astronautique" is credited to French writer, J.H. Rosny, best known for his caveman adventure stories like "Quest For Fire." The word never appears in the classic 1952 "By Space Ship To The Moon" by Leggins & Pratt, intro'd by Willey Ley... or in the great Ley & Chesley Bonestell "The Conquest Of Space" from 1949.

The earliest use of "astronaut" that I can find on my own shelves comes from a Ray Bradbury short story, "King Of The Gray Spaces," first published in the December 1943 edition of Famous Fantastic Mysteries. In 1962, this story was re-named, "R Is For Rocket" and became the lead story in that 1962 compilation. Ray was even more prophetic: the story is about two young boys growing up together in a small town bordering a huge rocket base where they would stand outside the fence to watch the launches. The town was in, of all places, Florida! 1943.

So a challenge to Dwayne Day and all of our fine space historians and enthusiasts here... where did our current term of "astronaut" actually come from? And just who decided US space fliers would carry that title, and when?

Dwayne Day
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Posts: 532
From:
Registered: Feb 2004

posted 08-14-2007 09:44 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Dwayne Day   Click Here to Email Dwayne Day     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Well, if it was first used in 1943 at least, then my statement is obviously wrong. I believe I got that erroneous fact from a scholarly article about Project Moonbase.

I'm not sure where the term comes from, but I'm sure that somebody has written about its origins. I'll ask around.

spaceman
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Posts: 922
From: Walsall, West Midlands, UK
Registered: Dec 2002

posted 08-14-2007 02:03 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for spaceman   Click Here to Email spaceman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I extracted this from Wikipedia:
The first known use of the term "astronaut" in the modern sense was by Neil R. Jones in his short story The Death's Head Meteor in 1930. The word itself had been known earlier. For example, in Percy Greg's 1880 book Across the Zodiac, "astronaut" referred to a spacecraft. In Les Navigateurs de l'Infini (1925) of J.-H. Rosny aîné the word astronautique (astronautic) was used. The word may have been inspired by "aeronaut", an older term for an air traveler first applied (in 1784) to balloonists.
However I'll keep on looking just in case!

SpaceCat
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Posts: 151
From: Florida, US
Registered: May 2006

posted 08-15-2007 05:41 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for SpaceCat     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The plot thickens!

Fascinating that it goes back that far -- and what I'm still snooping around for and am curious about; where and when the popular use was adopted by the US? Was it kicked around Langley PARD/STG even before NASA? Was it an 'answer' to the Soviet use of cosmonaut; or did Russia adopt cosmonaut after we were already talking 'astronaut?'

Lou Chinal
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Posts: 946
From: Staten Island, NY
Registered: Jun 2007

posted 09-06-2007 11:33 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Lou Chinal   Click Here to Email Lou Chinal     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I came across this from "U.S. Space Gear" (pp43).
It is thought that the term 'astronautics' was first used by Belgian science fiction author J.J. Rosny in 1926. Astronautics and astronauts had certainly been accepted into the language by 1930. These words combine the Greek words 'astron'(star) and 'nautes' (sailor); thus, an astronaut is literally a sailor among stars.
I hope this helps.

KC Stoever
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Posts: 1009
From: Denver, CO USA
Registered: Oct 2002

posted 10-25-2007 06:26 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for KC Stoever   Click Here to Email KC Stoever     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Well, I can see you gentlemen don't check in often enough over at scottcarpenter.com!

The current essay published there was written by one of the participants in the 1959 selection process, and he sets much of this out.

The late Dr. Gamble remembers the term was chosen on December 1, 1958:

What Do We Call Them?

"When we started the job, we had a sense of unreality. Here we were, about to take the first small steps by men that would eventually lead to what, years later, Neil Armstrong called "one giant leap for mankind." This was new, unexplored territory. We had to plow new ground, full of stumps and rocks, with few landmarks to guide us. Remember -- this was two and one-half years before the first Russian, Yuri Gagarin, and the first American, Alan Shepard, would fly in space within three weeks of each other, on April 12 and May 5,1961.

"Oddly enough, one of the first hot issues was the names or terms. What should we call the men who would one day fly into space? At Langley Research Center on December 1,1958, we brainstormed, and every name mentioned went up on the blackboard. Of course, somebody said "spaceman" and someone else said "superman" and still another said "space pilot." But perhaps he would be a passenger instead of a pilot, so some wise guy proposed "man-in-a-can" Other suggestions were made, some kidding and some serious. Then one of us came up with a solid suggestion, "Mercury," which made sense. It referred not to the planet Mercury and not to the quicksilver metal mercury, but to the messenger of the Roman gods, who had wings on his heels and legendary speed of flight. But someone had heard the word mentioned before, so he called Washington. Sure enough, only five days earlier, on November 26, NASA headquarters had officially adopted Project Mercury as the name of the first American manned spaceflight effort, but not yet used the term publicly or even told us.

"With our best name so far already taken, out came the dictionaries and thesauruses. Someone found that the term aeronaut, referring to those who ride in balloons and other lighter-than-air vehicles, was derived from "sailor in the air." From this we arrived at astronaut, meaning "sailor among the stars." We thought we had actually invented a new word, but it later turned up as having been used earlier, in 1929, probably in science fiction. In any event, the term astronaut rang true and was adopted. The Soviets followed suit with cosmonaut, meaning 'sailor in the universe.

Lou Chinal
Member

Posts: 946
From: Staten Island, NY
Registered: Jun 2007

posted 10-27-2007 03:57 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Lou Chinal   Click Here to Email Lou Chinal     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
All right! I'll check in more often. Nice essay by Dr Gamble, it was good to reread it.

-Lou

SpaceCat
Member

Posts: 151
From: Florida, US
Registered: May 2006

posted 10-28-2007 08:17 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for SpaceCat     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by KC Stoever:
Well, I can see you gentlemen don't check in often enough over at scottcarpenter.com!
Geez - gimme a break. I've been on the road with work so much that I'm pretty much on a first name basis with every pothole and bloated armadillo in the state!

Seriously though, that's a wonderful essay and certainly answers questions raised here as well as giving a unique glimpse behind the scenes of the early days. Great addition!

-Darron

Klaatu
Member

Posts: 60
From: England
Registered: Sep 2007

posted 04-09-2009 11:13 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Klaatu     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Great thread, and very informative.

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