10 Oldest Astronauts in the World

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Although NASA does not have an age restriction for its Astronaut Corps, candidates range in age from 26 – 46, with the average age being 34. While there might not be an age restriction, research shows that most successful applicants tend to be older, around 40 years old. NASA and other international space programs might not outright say that they look for candidates with years of experience, especially military service, but this is often an unadvertised requirement. This is one of the major reasons why astronauts tend to be older. In fact, all of the astronauts on this list were at least 55 years old on their last space missions.

10. William E. Thornton (April 14, 1929 – Present)

Oldest Age While in Space: 56 in 1985
Country of Origin:  United States of America
Last Spaceflight:  STS-51-B on the Space Shuttle Challenger

William Thornton photo source: Wikimedia Commons via NASA  

William E. Thornton is a former NASA astronaut who was 56 years old during his last space mission. Thornton was selected as scientist-astronaut by NASA in August 1967. Before this, he was in the U.S. Air Force as part of the Aerospace Medical Division. He became involved with space medicine research, which led him to apply for the astronaut program. Thornton developed and designed the first mass measuring devices for space, which remain in use today.

While working for NASA, Thornton primarily served on the astronaut support crew of various missions and eventually flew on two spaceflights. He served as a mission specialist on STS-8 in 1983, and STS-51B in 1985. Until he retired from NASA in 1993, Thornton continued to conduct space medicine research. He has completed designs for exercise and other countermeasure equipment for the Extended Duration Orbiter (EDO), and for Space Station Freedom, including improved treadmills, rowing machines, isotonic exercise devices, and a bicycle.


9. Roger K. Crouch (September 12, 1940 – Present)

Oldest Age While in Space: 56 in 1997
Country of Origin:  United States of America
Last Spaceflight:  STS-94 on the Space Shuttle Columbia

Roger K. Crouch

photo source: Wikimedia Commons via NASA

Roger K. Crouch served as a payload specialist during two NASA Space Shuttle missions in 1997. Crouch is primarily a scientist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), who was on loan to NASA for several years. He has held various positions including serving as group leader and researcher for the NASA Langley Research Center from 1962 – 1985 and Senior Scientist for the International Space Station from 2000 – 2004.

As a child, Crouch always dreamed of being an astronaut, but was not eligible for the astronaut program because of his color blindness. Instead, Crouch worked for NASA as a scientist, but in 1997 he got a chance to go in space when he applied to be a payload specialist. The eye test was not as strict for this particular job and Crouch went on two missions, STS-83 (April 4–8, 1997) and STS-94 (July 1–17, 1997).


8. Peggy Whitson (February 9, 1960 – Present)

Oldest Age While in Space: 57 in 2017
Country of Origin:  United States of America
Last Spaceflight:  Expedition 50/51/52

Peggy Whitson

photo source: Wikimedia Commons via NASA

Peggy Whitson is the only astronaut currently still active on this list. Whitson is the oldest female astronaut and the first female commander of the International Space Station (ISS). She has also set several more records including being the first female astronaut to command the ISS twice and holding the record for most total days spent in space for any NASA astronaut. Additionally, Whitson is the oldest female spacewalker and has conducted more spacewalks than any other female astronaut.

Whitson’s NASA career began in 1989 when she started working as a research biochemist. She continued to work for NASA as a scientist until she was selected as an astronaut candidate in 1996. Her most recent expedition as commander of the ISS started on November 19, 2016 – she was 56 at the time, making her the oldest woman to fly into space. Whitson celebrated her 57th birthday in space and her time on the ISS ended on September 3, 2017 as she passed over command to Fyodor Yurchikhin.


7. Karl G. Henize (October 17, 1926 – October 5, 1993)

Oldest Age While in Space: 58 in 1985
Country of Origin:  United States of America
Last Spaceflight:  STS-51-F on the Space Shuttle Challenger

Karl Henize

photo source: Wikimedia Commons via NASA

Karl G. Henize was an American astronaut who only went into space once, but served in the Astronaut Support Crew on several other missions. Henize unexpectedly died in 1993 during an expedition on Mount Everest. He was there as part of the team sent by NASA to test a meter called a Tissue Equivalent Proportional Counter (TEPC). The expedition ended when Henize died from high altitude pulmonary edema.

Henize’s first and only spaceflight was aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger during the Spacelab-2 mission (STS-51-F). He served as the a mission specialist and was responsible for operating the Spacelab Instrument Pointing System (IPS), operating the Remoted Manipulator System (RMS), maintaining the Spacelab systems, and operating several of the experiments.


6. Valery V. Ryumin (August 16, 1939 – Present)

Oldest Age While in Space: 58 in 1998
Country of Origin:  Russia previously the Soviet Union
Last Spaceflight:  STS-91 on the Space Shuttle Discovery

Valery Ryumin

photo source: Wikimedia Commons via NASA  

Valery V. Ryumin is the oldest Russian cosmonaut to ever participate in a space mission. He was 58 years old during his last spaceflight, which took place over the summer of 1998. STS-91 aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery was Ryumin’s fifth and final spaceflight.

Before joining the RSC Energia cosmonaut corps in 1973, Ryumin was tank commander in the Russian Army between 1958 – 1961. Since 1966, Ryumin has been employed at the Rocket Space Corporation Energia, holding the positions of: Ground Electrical Test Engineer, Deputy Lead Designer for Orbital Stations, Department Head, and Deputy General Designer for Testing. During his time as an astronaut, Ryumin received many Russian and foreign awards including being decorated as Hero of the Soviet Union twice.


5. Jean-Loup Chrétien (August 20, 1938 – Present)

Oldest Age While in Space: 59 in 1997
Country of Origin:  France
Last Spaceflight:  STS-86 on the Space Shuttle Atlantis

photo source: Wikimedia Commons via NASA  

Jean-Loup Chrétien was the first Frenchman in space as well as the first western European. He is also the oldest French and western European astronaut to ever fly in space. Like American astronauts, Chrétien had military experience before becoming Centre national d’études spatiales (CNES) spationaut. He was a Général de Brigade (brigadier general) in the Armée de l’Air (French air force).

Chrétien flew on a total of three space missions – two Fraco-Soviet spaceflights and one NASA Space Shuttle mission. His first spaceflight was in 1982 aboard the Soyuz T-6. Chrétien served as the lead research cosmonaut on the mission. In 1994, Chrétien was selected as part of NASA Astronaut Group 15 to officially become an International Mission Specialist with NASA. His last flight took place in 1997, at the age of 59, as crew member of the STS-86 mission aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis. Chrétien was forced to retire in 2001 after a freak accident at a Home Depot store severely injured his neck, head, and shoulders.


4. Vance D. Brand (May 9, 1931 – Present)

Oldest Age While in Space: 59 in 1990
Country of Origin:  United States of America
Last Spaceflight:  STS-35 on the Space Shuttle Columbia

Vance D Brand

photo source: Wikimedia Commons via NASA

American astronaut Vance D. Brand was 59 years old during his last spaceflight. Brand served as commander on STS-35, which was the tenth flight of the Space Shuttle Columbia. It was a nine-day mission devoted to astronomical observations with ASTRO-1, a Spacelab observatory consisting of four telescopes.

Before joining NASA, Brand was a commissioned officer and Naval Aviator in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1953 – 1957. After he retired from active duty, Brand was in the Marine Forces Reserve and later became a civilian test pilot for the Lockheed Corporation. Brand was one of 19 pilot astronauts selected by NASA in 1966. His first spaceflight took place in 1975, as Apollo command module pilot on the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project mission. This was the first join spaceflight between American astronauts and Soviet cosmonauts.


3. Dennis Tito (August 8, 1940 – Present)

Oldest Age While in Space: 60 in 2001
Country of Origin:  United States of America
Last Spaceflight:  ISS EP-1 on the Soyuz TM-32/Soyuz TM-31

Dennis Tito

photo source: Wikimedia Commons via NASA  (Tito is on the left)

Although Dennis Tito, is not officially an astronaut, he is known for being the first space tourist. Tito used his own money to pay for his trip to the International Space Station aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft. He was 60 years old when the mission launched on April 28, 2001.

Before becoming a multimillionaire as an investment manager, Tito was an aerospace engineer who worked for the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Even after he left NASA, Tito was still fascinated with space and was determined to fly into space before he died. Tito managed to get a spot on the Russian Soyuz TM-32 mission, which was arranged by space tourism company Space Adventures. Other ISS station partners, most notably NASA and space agencies from Japan, Canada, and Europe, did not think that Tito had enough training and would be a liability on the space station. Despite the criticisms, Tito spent nearly eight days aboard the ISS.


2. Franklin Story Musgrave (August 19, 1935 – Present)

Oldest Age While in Space: 61 in 1996
Country of Origin:  United States of America
Last Spaceflight:  STS-80 on the Space Shuttle Columbia

Franklin Story Musgrave

photo source: Wikimedia Commons via NASA  

Prior to John Glenn’s last mission in 1998, Franklin Story Musgrave held the title of oldest astronaut. Like all older astronauts Musgrave served in the military; he was as an aviation electrician, instrument technician, and aircraft crew chief in the U.S. Marine Corps. In 1967, Musgrave was selected as a scientist-astronaut by NASA and became a member of NASA Astronaut Group 6. His first mission took place in 1983 aboard the maiden voyage of the Space Shuttle Challenger.

Musgrave went on to fly in five more spaceflights, making him the second astronaut to fly on six missions. Additionally, he is the only astronaut to fly on all five American Space Shuttles (Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis, and Endeavor). Musgrave made his final spaceflight in 1996 aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia.


1. John Glenn (July 18, 1921 – December 8, 2016)

Oldest Age While in Space: 77 in 1998
Country of Origin:  United States of America
Last Spaceflight:  STS-95 on the Space Shuttle Discovery

John Glenn

photo source: Wikimedia Commons via NASA  

Famed and beloved American astronaut John Glenn made history for being the first American to orbit the Earth and being the oldest astronaut to ever travel in space. Before being selected to participate in the U.S. Space Program in 1959, Glenn was a pilot in the U.S. Marine Corps. He served in both World War II and the Korean War and afterwards became a U.S. Navy test pilot.

On February 20, 1962, John Glen became the first American to orbit the Earth. His trip lasted nearly five hours and he was able to orbit around the Earth three times. Glenn partially retired from being an astronaut after his flight and went on to become a senator for the next several decades. He returned to space at the age of 77 on October 29, 1998, as a Payload Specialist on Space Shuttle Discovery.

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