A kerbonaut is a Kerbal who is an astronaut and thus crews vehicles launched from Kerbal Space Center. They are the only controllable characters in-game in Kerbal Space Program. They wear an Intra-Vehicular Activity suit and helmet inside of crafts, and an Extra-Vehicular Activity suit and helmet outside them. The EVA suit includes helmet lights and a RCS jetpack.
It should be noted that “kerbonaut” is a fan-made term and not used by Squad. However, the commonality of its use by fans mirrors the real-world prevalence of nation-specific terms for space travelers (discussed below), hence prefixing “kerb” to “astronaut”.
The Astronaut Complex provides centralized status listing of all hired crew and the hiring of new kerbonauts. Aside from the original three, each kerbonaut has a random first name. The surname of every kerbonaut, and of all known Kerbals, is "Kerman". Each kerbonaut also has randomized personality traits.
In addition to a random first name, each kerbonaut has random values of two personality attributes – Courage and Stupidity – which are displayed in-game. There's a small chance they may also have the hidden "BadS" (badass) flag. In the game file "persistent.sfs" Courage is a scalar value with the key brave. Stupidity has the key dumb.
There is a bug regarding Courage (but not Stupidity) in version 0.23.5, where courage values in the info screen in both the Tracking Station and Orbital Map are inverted from those displayed in the Astronaut Complex.
Personality traits determine how a kerbonaut behaves in variously lethal flight conditions. These reactions are displayed by facial expressions and gestures typically seen in IVA portraits and range from neutral to happy to inconsolable horror. They have no effect on flight performance or Science results.
Experiments in version 0.23 using non-badass kerbonauts modified to the four possible combinations of extreme Courage and Stupidity ([1, 1], [1, 0], [0, 0], [0, 1]) revealed that Courage does not control fearful behavior. Both of the Stupid kerbonauts were blissfully ignorant in the face of danger. Meanwhile, the non-Stupid ones both displayed equal fear of accelerating in any rocket built by KSC engineers, and displayed this at exactly the same time despite having opposite levels of Courage from each other. Subsequent tests with 0.75/0.25 combinations showed an uptick in fear in the more Stupid subjects, indicating that the natural outcome of awareness is dread.
The badS flag, however, negates all fear regardless of Courage or Stupidity, pushing the kerbonaut toward a happy state which only the most blatantly impending catastrophe can dim.
The Original Three
Every new game, whether Sandbox or Career mode, begins with three kerbonauts already on the roster. While all other kerbonauts have randomly generated names and stats, these three are always the same. Their names are Jebediah Kerman, Bill Kerman, and Bob Kerman.
These are the only “veteran” kerbonauts in Kerbal Space Program, designated by orange IVA suits and icons in crew interfaces; everything else is visually identical to all kerbonauts. In some of the game's loading screens, three orange suited kerbonauts (presumably Jeb, Bill, and Bob) have helmets with orange stripes though no such helmet is seen in-game – IVA helmets have grey stripes and EVA have red.
Their presence at the top of the list of kerbonauts in every game means they each have much greater likelihood of being aboard any given vessel than does any random kerbonaut, with Jeb being far and away the most likely to pilot any craft any time he's available. This, and their presence in every player's games, makes them the most famous faces of KSP.
The term kerbonaut seems to be an invention of KSP fans. The in-game building for hiring crew is named the Astronaut Complex after all. As the developers at Squad are the authors of the Kerbal universe, it makes sense to consider their terms official.
However, fans persist in “adding K to every word” as evidenced by mods like the Kerbonaut Creator, use in KSP fan fiction, forum posts requesting kerbonaut veteran suit colors, etc. If notoriety in another huge indie game is any barometer, there are about 12x more views of a Kerbonaut Minecraft skin than a Kerbal astronaut Minecraft skin on the same site.
In real-life, “astronaut” is not a universal term; it principally refers to NASA and sometimes European Space Agency explorers. The term “cosmonaut” (Russian: космонавт) has been used since Soviet times and could make a historical case for being the first choice. Eastern European and former Soviet bloc countries have invented terms based on the Russian, while other nations have used other terms based on ”astronaut”. In modern times, Chinese sources use either term depending on the audience they're speaking to, though ”háng tiān yuán” represents their native term for space travellers other than China's. Meanwhile, western media invented the term ”taikonaut” for China's space travellers.
If there is a universal trend, it seems that terms for "people who go to space" get tied in with national identities. However, KSC and characters like Wernher von Kerman and Gene Kerman more closely resemble the US space program of the 1960s than any other space program. In the end, it's hard to say what should be said.