No, nothing all that complicated. Just a matter of the language used in their country of origin. Here's some examples:
- America & most other English-speaking countries: astronaut
- Russia and sometimes China: cosmonaut
- China: cosmonaut or taikonaut
- France: spationaut
- Indonesia: angkasawan
In each case the term is just a combination of the words for "space" and "traveler" or "voyager." Note that only the first three countries in that list have actually launched their own manned rockets. But personnel from many other countries have participated in flights.
The only official NASA policy that bears on this is their definition that, to be in space and receive the title of astronaut, you must get to at least an altitude of 100 km (62 miles). Other countries have followed suit. That altitude was chosen because it's the approximate dividing line between aeronautic and astronautic flight.
Astronaut can be analyzed as "star sailor", while cosmonaut is "void sailor". Having pointed that out, I was going to suggest that the American term is better because it's pure Latin, while the Russian equivalent is one of those awful Greek-Latin hybrids.
But it seems that Latin nauta and Greek ναύτης (nautes) are essentially the same, so there goes that argument.
Come on, Tromboniator, now you're just being nauty.
Ron Draney said: … the Russian equivalent is one of those awful Greek-Latin hybrids.
OK, that's a new concept for me. What is it that makes a Greek-Latin hybrid "awful?" There are tons of hybrid words in English. Is it just that it complicates the etymology?
larrfirr said: I might point out that in Russian the word "Kosmonavt" does not make the distinction of what country they come from.
Nor does "astronaut." But for the other examples I cited, I guess the language provides that distinction. So there's the "safety" of using Latin and Greek. See Ron Draney's post earlier in this thread.