Who are the first astronauts?

It was 17 January, 2016 when my friends challenged my thinking about the word ‘astronaut’.

My Yap HPO family took me to visit Mangyol (mang-what, yol-writing), a pebaey (community house) in Makiy Village. After exploring this site, we concluded our visit with an “exit conference.” An exit conference involves joining each other under a koyen (resting house) with some snacks and hanging out together. During this time, one of my friends connected to Makiy Village through traditional socio-political relationships said “you know, Makiy people were the first astronauts.” Of course, this challenged my thinking about what it means to be an astronaut.

If one performs a search on Google for the first astronauts, s/he will find the first seven astronauts introduced in 1959, or the Mercury 7. As I recalled my little space knowledge and asked my new friend more about these first astronauts, I pondered the word ‘astronaut’. “What does it mean to be an astronaut?,” I thought. As I thought about astronauts, the more I realized travel to space and returning doesn’t make one an astronaut, nor does travel. The first astronauts were called ‘astronauts’ before they ever traveled anywhere. It was the preparation to go to space makes one an astronaut. This account of attempting space travel may mark the Yapese people of Makiy Village the first astronauts in human history!

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