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Astronaut, Cosmonaut... Taikonaut?

Published Oct 15, 2003


While a successful attempt to send a man into space this week could unite the Chinese nation, they are already divided on what to call the man in orbit.

This is no trifling matter, since space travellers have different names in different countries. Some fairly outlandish suggestions - such as "Chinanaut" - have failed to find support, narrowing the field to two candidates, "Taikonaut" and "Yuhangyuan."

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"Taikonaut" is an odd mixture, merging the Chinese word for space "taikong" with the Greek word for sailor, "naus."

Chinese officials do not particularly like this newly-coined word, and newspapers mostly stick to "yuhangyuan," meaning "space navigator."

However, "taikonaut" could eventually win out, because it is relatively easy for foreigners to pronounce, and because it alludes to terms for the profession coined by existing space powers.

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"Astronaut," means "star sailor," while cosmonaut, the Anglicised version of the Russian word "kosmonavt," means "sailor of the cosmos." Mark Shuttleworth became known as an "Afronaut".

It could be that at the end of the day, no special word for Chinese space travellers will be needed. After all, Japanese travelling on the US space shuttle are referred to as astronauts, just as those who hitch a ride on Soviet spacecraft called themselves cosmonauts. - Sapa-AFP.

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