From the Imperial Encyclopædia (2270)
The Imperial Astrogators' Guild is a voluntary paramilitary organisation with a corporate responsibility for the good conduct of its members and their mutual liability. The guild provides for the training and oversight of astronauts and inspection of spacecraft before launch.
The guild's origins may be found in the Space-Faring Veterans Association founded by Valentin Ivanovich Konstantinov, the famous pilot of the "Tsar Nicholas II", in the year 2180. After his historic flight of 21 July 2179, numerous flights followed. Although these were piloted by capable pilots of the Russian Air Force, there were several accidents, and Colonel Konstantinov was concerned that not enough specialised training was received, nor adequate mutual support among those brave few that had left Earth's atmosphere. A devout Catholic, he was also desirous of providing for the spiritual well-being of his comrades and he felt that a special association outside the normal military chain-of-command was needed for this. It started out as an informal association as Colonel Konstantinov gathered his colleagues for regular meetings after-hours in the officer's mess at Plesetsk Cosmodrome.
Supreme Ruler Henryk Severnov (as he then was), though not yet formally converted to Catholicism, had by this time been publicly favouring Catholics for years. He therefore granted official recognition to the organisation in 2181 and it was renamed the Imperial Space-Faring Veterans Association. Supreme Leader Henryk gifted to them the ancient Baikonur launch facility, and the training of full-time astronauts recruited from the various military branches was handed over to them despite strong opposition from the Air Force. Members of the Association also took part in the inspection of craft and liased with other guilds forming in those years that constructed various parts of new spacecraft. As their skills and safety of their flights increased, and their fame spread along with the Pax Imperium of Russia, they became sought after by non-Russian nations as advisors to assist in their own space exploration efforts.
On 18 September, 2182 the group was re-founded as a guild with official Royal Charter, named the Royal Astrogators' Guild. St. Joseph Cuptertino was formally adopted as their patron. The Guild was granted great autonomy and Baikonur and its environs is made a feif owing fealty directly to the Russian Crown.
On 18 September, 2202, Emperor Henryk again reorganised the Guild, granting it the title Imperial Astrogators' Guild and amalgamating a number of the lesser astronauts' unions throughout the Empire into it. A purple uniform is adopted to differentiate Guild astronauts from those directly answerable to a national government. The Guild charter makes it answerable directly to the Holy See in the interests of keeping it apolitical and independent -- concentrating therefore on the increase in skill and science. Baikonur and the Guild's various outposts throughout the globe are gifted outright to the Guild, relieving them of any duties of vassalage hitherto imposed in return for those lands.
This allows for standardised training and greater coordination. Although no nation is prevented from maintaining its own space programmes, the Astrogators' Guildsmen swiftly come to dominate the most important positions aboard vessels of every nation as their skills are highly sought-after. In this way, the Imperial Astrogators' Guild is completely self-sufficient, supporting itself through "hiring out" its astronauts and consultants. Over time, this made the Guild fabulously wealthy and powerful, proving the wisdom of Emperor Henryk in unselfishly granting them full autonomy. They therefore continue quietly in their pursuit of excellence in space travel, rather than becoming embroiled in politics.
During the Martian Crusade, the Guild developed a new branch within its organisation, being the Imperial Astrogators' Guild Marines. They are given a uniform of a very dark black/purple and are concerned with combat in space (zero-gee, vacuum, &c.) and planetary landings. They took a vow to defend all Catholics outside of Earth's confines, and this vow was soon adopted by all members of the Guild. Many flocked to the Guild Marines given its appeal to the two great passions of that age, being religious fervour and military prowess. They became a highly effective force that played a major role in the Martian Crusade. Their finest hour came at the Battle of the Ellas Impact Basin, 7 October, 2264, where a cohort of their number were orbitally paradropped to break-out embattled Imperial forces. Though their losses were greivous, with only a quarter of the original number surviving the battle, the losses inflicted were ten to one and turned the tide of the battle leading to the decisive Imperial victory. After this battle, Our Lady of Olympus Mons was added as co-patron of the Guild.
When the divers rulers of the realms of the Empire started discussing the construction of deep space exploration vessels in the second decade of the 23rd century, the Guild was asked to take an advisory role and helped coordinate between the various nations and guilds involved. When the I.S.S. Rex Caelestis was launched with its five year mission to explore nearby solar systems, it was placed under the command of an Imperial Astrogators' Guildsman, Admiral Martinus Cornwallis Leocorde.