Space flight participant (Russian: Участник космического полёта, uchastnik kosmicheskogo polyota) is the term used by the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the Russian Federal Space Agency (RKA), and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for people who travel into space, but who are not professional astronauts.
While the term gained new prominence with the rise of space tourism, it has also been used for participants in programs like NASA's Teacher in Space and astronauts designated by inter-government agreements like the Angkasawan program and the Korean Astronaut Program.
Other terms used for space travelers who are not career astronauts include NASA's Payload Specialist and the RKA's Researcher-Cosmonaut.
The Soviet Interkosmos program included participants selected from Warsaw Pact members and later from allies of the USSR and non-aligned countries. Most of these people received full training for their missions and were treated as equals, but especially after the Mir program began, were generally given shorter flights than Soviet cosmonauts. The European Space Agency took advantage of the program as well.
The United States Space Shuttle program included Payload Specialist positions which were usually filled by representatives of companies or institutions managing a specific payload on that mission. These individuals did not receive the same level of training as career NASA astronauts and were not employed by NASA, so they were essentially private astronauts.
In the early days of the Shuttle program, NASA was also eager to prove its capability to Congressional sponsors, and Senator Jake Garn and (then-Representative, now Senator) Bill Nelson were both given opportunities to fly on a Shuttle mission.
As the Shuttle program expanded, NASA developed the Space Flight Participant Program, where civilians, with an emphasis on creative people, would be sent into space to increase public awareness of NASA's mission. The initial goal was that two or three shuttle missions a year would include a civilian participant. The first of these would be the Teacher in Space Project, which would combine publicity and educational opportunities for NASA. Christa McAuliffe would have been the first Teacher in Space, but she was killed in the Challenger disaster and the program was canceled. At the time of the Challenger disaster, NASA was planning to include a Journalist in Space on a mission scheduled to launch in September 1986. The program continued briefly, with the initial candidate pool being narrowed to 100 in March and 40 in April before being postponed indefinitely in July. Walter Cronkite and Miles O'Brien were considered front-runners.
With the realities of the post-perestroika economy in Russia, its space industry was especially starved for cash. The Tokyo Broadcasting System (TBS) offered to pay for one of its reporters to fly on a mission. For $28 million, Toyohiro Akiyama, was flown in 1990 to Mir with the eighth crew and returned a week later with the seventh crew. Akiyama gave a daily television broadcast from orbit and also performed scientific experiments for Russian and Japanese companies.
Since then, the Russian Federal Space Agency has also sold seats to a consortium of British companies for Project Juno, to seven self-funded space tourists, to the Malaysian government as part of a contract to sell military planes, and to the South Korean government as part of the Korean Astronaut Program.
All eight space tourism trips went to and from the International Space Station on Soyuz spacecraft and were arranged through the space tourism company, Space Adventures.
While not labeled as "space flight participants", the following people participated in spaceflight missions under the auspices of special programs outside the professional astronaut corps.