Until 2002, astronauts were sponsored and trained exclusively by governments, either by the military, or by civilian space agencies. With the sub-orbital flight of the privately funded SpaceShipOne in 2004, a new category of astronaut was created: the commercial astronaut.
In the United States, Canada, Ireland, the United Kingdom, and many other English-speaking nations, a professional space traveler is called an astronaut. The term derives from the Greek words ástron (ἄστρον), meaning "star", and nautes (ναύτης), meaning "sailor". 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. An early use in a non-fiction publication is Eric Frank Russell's poem "The Astronaut" in the November 1934 Bulletin of the British Interplanetary Society.
The first known formal use of the term astronautics in the scientific community was the establishment of the annual International Astronautical Congress in 1950 and the subsequent founding of the International Astronautical Federation the following year.
NASA applies the term astronaut to any crew member aboard NASA spacecraft bound for Earth orbit or beyond. NASA also uses the term as a title for those selected to join its Astronaut Corps. The European Space Agency similarly uses the term astronaut for members of its Astronaut Corps.
By convention, an astronaut employed by the Russian Federal Space Agency (or its Soviet predecessor) is called a cosmonaut in English texts. The word is an anglicisation of the Russian word kosmonavt (Russian: космонавт), one who works in space outside the Earth's atmosphere, a space traveler, which derives from the Greek words kosmos (κόσμος), meaning "universe", and nautes (ναύτης), meaning "sailor".
The Soviet Air Force pilot Yuri Gagarin was the first cosmonaut - indeed the first person - in space. Valentina Tereshkova, a Russian factory worker, was the first female in space, as well as arguably the first civilian to make it there (see below for a further discussion of civilians in space). On March 14, 1995, Norman Thagard became the first American to ride to space on board a Russian launch vehicle, and thus became the first "American cosmonaut".