Astronauts operate spacecraft, organize operations, conduct equipment repairs and work with scientists on research projects. A NASA spacecraft crew consists of around five astronauts, each with specific duties.
Each spacecraft has a commander and pilot; both are responsible for supervising the flight. The commander has the main authority, and his job involves overseeing the mission and ensuring the safety of the crew members throughout the flight. He maneuvers the spacecraft with the aid of the pilot.
Mission specialists handle various daily tasks to keep the vehicle functional and habitable for the crew, including scheduling the crew’s activities, monitoring equipment and managing the food inventory. They work side by side with payload specialists, who are sometimes included in space missions to carry out unusual tasks. Mission specialists are also trained to fix state-of-the-art equipment while in space. They perform exterior repairs by using a remote manipulator system or by doing space walks, meaning they go outside of the spacecraft. Pilots typically help mission specialists when repairing equipment and retrieving satellites.
While astronauts are not directly in charge of managing research projects, their assistance is essential to the work of scientists. They assist scientists in improving the design of research used in space and give advice on how to deal with challenging situations.