Is There A Difference Between A Spacecraft And A Spaceship?

We’ve all heard them being used, either in real life or science-fiction, but is there a difference between a spaceship and a spacecraft?

Is There A Difference Between A Spacecraft And A Spaceship?

Spacecrafts are often confused with spaceships. Is there really a difference?

A spacecraft is a vehicle designed to travel through space. Spaceships are also vehicles that travel through space, but they are usually much larger and capable of carrying passengers.

There are several differences between these two terms.

The main difference is that a spacecraft has no permanent propulsion system, whereas a spaceship does. Also, a spacecraft is unmanned, whereas a spaceship is manned.

Well, it’s actually a little more confusing than that… All spaceships could be considered spacecraft, but only those with onboard controls and pilots/astronauts could be considered spaceships.


Spacecrafts are vehicles that have been built for the purpose of traveling into outer space, but they don’t necessarily carry any living organisms onboard, meaning they must be controlled by systems here on Earth, or feature self-control protocols.

These kinds of creations include:

Rocket (Rocket Engine)

A rocket is an engine used to propel a spacecraft from Earth’s surface into orbit. Rockets may use liquid fuel, solid propellant, or gaseous propellants. Some rockets are reusable while others are not.

Unmanned Spacecraft

These types of vehicles do not carry humans into space. Instead, they perform some other functions such as scientific research, communications relay, surveillance, etc.

Examples include the Hubble Space Telescope, Mars Exploration Rover, Cassini probe, Voyager 1 & 2, Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, etc.


A spaceship is a large vessel that carries people or cargo into space. It is usually controlled by a person who sits inside it, although sometimes it is controlled, at least in part, remotely.

Manned Spaceship

These types of vessels carry humans into space. This includes both military and civilian ships.

Examples include the Mercury capsule, Apollo program, Soyuz program, Vostok, Gemini program, Skylab, Challenger disaster, Columbia accident, etc.

Spacecraft VS Spaceship

Is There A Difference Between A Spacecraft And A Spaceship

The term spacecraft is more commonly used than the term spaceship.

For instance, NASA will always use the term spacecraft in official documentation. However, both words mean more or less the same thing, besides the slight deviations detailed here.


This word refers to any type of vehicle designed to travel through outer space.


This word refers to a large vessel that carries humans or cargo into outer space.

Spacecraft VS Spacedock/Spaceport

The term spacecraft is often confused with the term spaceport or spacedock. These are places where spacecraft take off and land (or dock). However, there are many different kinds of spaceports.

For example, NASA uses its own spaceport at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, United States.

Other examples include Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan; Kourou Spaceport in French Guiana, South America; Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in China; Plesetsk Cosmodrome in Russia; Svalbard Airport Group in Norway; Tanegashima Space Center in Japan; Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in China; and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, United States.

Spacecraft VS Space Ship

The terms spacecraft and spaceships can be confusing because they have similar meanings.

The difference between them is that spacecraft is a general term for all types of vehicles designed to travel through outer space whereas spaceship is a specific type of spacecraft.

Spacecraft VS Space Vehicle

The term spacecraft is also confused with the term space vehicle.

The difference between these two terms is that spacecraft is a generic term that can refer to any type of vehicle that travels through outer space whereas a space vehicle is a specific type of vehicle that travels into outer space.

In addition, spacecraft is an adjective meaning “designed to travel through outer space”. In contrast, the noun “spaceship” has no such meaning.

History Of Spacecrafts


Historically speaking, the first spacecraft was actually called a “skyhook”, but this name was never used again after it was invented by Robert Goddard in 1926. He renamed his invention “Astrarium” which means “heavenly observatory”.

It was built by him as part of his Ph.D. thesis. Later on, he renamed it “Project A-3” and then finally “Model B”. His original idea was to use rockets to propel himself into outer space.

However, when Goddard started working on his project, he didn’t know what kind of propulsion system would work best for him.

So, he decided to test various methods of propulsion including rockets, balloons, compressed air, etc. Eventually, he found out that using rockets worked the best.

Robert Goddard was one of the earliest people who thought about traveling into outer space.

Before him, other scientists like Galileo Galilei were thinking about how to travel into outer space. But, they weren’t able to do so until the 20th century. Goddard ushered in an era of innovation in the space race.

History Of Spaceships

The first spaceship ever launched into outer space was Sputnik 1. It was built by the Soviet Union in 1957. It was designed to send a satellite into orbit. However, it failed due to technical problems.

After that, the United States created its own version of a spaceship named the Mercury capsule. They sent their first astronaut into outer space in 1961.

After that, NASA continued to develop new technologies and designs for future spacecraft.

As time passed, humans began to explore outer space further and further. For example, the Apollo program was developed in order to land astronauts on the Moon.

Other programs included Skylab, Salyut, and Mir. These are some examples of spaceships that we’ve seen in our lifetime.

Notable Spacecrafts

There have been many different types of spacecraft throughout history. Some of the most notable ones include:

  • Mercury Capsules
  • Apollo Program
  • Soyuz Program
  • Vostok
  • Gemini Program
  • Skylab
  • Hubble Telescope
  • Mars Exploration Rover
  • Cassini Probe
  • Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter
  • Titan II rRocket
  • Saturn V Rocket
  • Proton Rocket

And many more!

Notable Spaceships


There have also been many different types of spaceships throughout history. Some of these include:

  • Fulton’s Flying Machine
  • N1 Moon Rocket
  • Sputnik 1
  • Voskhod 2
  • Salyut 1
  • Mir 1 & Mir 2
  • International Space Station (ISS)
  • Dragon Capsule
  • Shuttle Orbiter
  • Orion Crew Capsule
  • Viking Lander
  • Landing Craft
  • Space Shuttle
  • NASA Orion Crew Capsule
  • Boeing CST-100 Starliner
  • Commercial Crew Development Program
  • Crew Dragon
  • SpaceX Starship
  • Blue Origin New Glenn
  • United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy

Spaceships tend to be more known than spacecraft. This is because there’s more launch publicity around spaceships. After all, they contain human crew.

Final Thoughts

Whether it’s a spacecraft or spaceship, you can’t deny how awesome they are.

The very idea that the human race is able to send things into outer space is mindblowing. And it’s exploded in the last one hundred years.

It really makes you wonder, just how much more will we be able to explore, and discover about space in the next hundred? Or even in our lifetime!

Regardless, so long as you remember the difference between a spacecraft and a spaceship then you can pretend to understand the coming discoveries.

Remember, a spacecraft is any vehicle that travels through space. But, a spaceship is specifically a vessel that carries people or equipment to another planet or celestial body.

Spaceship has also taken on something of an infantile twang, whereas spacecraft has more of an official ring to it, but both terms are perfectly valid.

Gordon Watts