Word of the Day


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Liz Potter
Written by Liz Potter


someone who travels and works in space

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary.

Origin and usage

The noun astronaut was first used in English in 1928, some decades before the era of space travel began. It is a combination of astro- meaning ‘relating to the planets and stars or space’ and -naut, from the Greek word for sailor. Astronaut was coined on the model of the existing term ‘aeronaut’, which dated from the 18th century.


Fifty years ago tomorrow, on 20 July 1969, the first ever human being to set foot on a celestial body stepped onto the surface of the moon. As he touched the lunar surface, Neil Armstrong uttered words that were heard around the globe: “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.” The words were Armstrong’s own, devised as the lunar module landed on the moon’s surface. In the excitement of the moment, it seemed that Armstrong forgot to say the indefinite article, although the astronaut himself subsequently said that he intended to say it, thought he had said it, and was surprised to hear from a recording that he hadn’t. If the event was happening today rather than half a century ago, the wording might have been slightly different. The term ‘mankind‘ as a way of referring to the whole of humanity has fallen out of favour because it seems to exclude more than half the human race. So a present-day Neil Armstrong might have chose ‘humankind‘, ‘humanity‘ or ‘the human race‘ instead. None of these would have had quite the same pleasing rhythm as the original though, with or without the article.


“Magnificent desolation.”
(Buzz Aldrin, the second man on the moon)

“Houston, Tranquillity Base here. The Eagle has landed.”
(Neil Armstrong)

Related words

cosmonaut, spaceman, spacewoman, taikonaut

Browse related words in the Macmillan Thesaurus.

About the author

Liz Potter

Liz Potter

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