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A Permanent Presence in Space

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In the pioneering days of spaceflight, most astronauts were recruited from the ranks of test pilots. Later a few scientists were added into the astronaut corps to conduct research in space.

For the multipurpose Space Shuttle, the roles of astronauts became more varied. The astronaut corps expanded to include crew members called mission specialists, who are responsible for spacecraft systems and operations other than piloting. Scientists, engineers, physicians, and pilots can become mission specialists.

For many missions, guest astronauts-- called payload specialists--who are not part of the NASA astronaut corps train with the crew. Payload specialists come from universities, research centers, government agencies, businesses, and other nations that use the Shuttle. They are responsible for science and engineering payloads.


With changing roles and changes in society, the astronaut corps has become more diverse. From 1959 through 1972, all U.S. astronauts were white men, selected primarily from military test pilot programs and a few scientific fields. For the Shuttle program, NASA recruited candidates with advanced technical degrees, including qualified women and minorities. More than 150 astronauts have been selected since 1978, and the present astronaut corps is more representative of America's diversity.
portrait of mixed Shuttle crew (STS-60) portrait of mixed Shuttle crew, (STS-47)
118 k jpeg
NASA#: 92-HC-648
104 k jpeg
NASA#: 94-HC-98

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