Explained: Why the US will no longer issue astronaut wings for commercial space travelers


The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said on Saturday it would no longer issue commercial space astronaut wings and instead recognize people who reach space on its website. The astronaut wings he refers to are pins that are given to people who fly in space on a private spacecraft.

Jeff Bezos (of Blue Origin), Sir Richard Branson (of Virgin Galactic) and Mike Melville – who became the first private astronaut to fly beyond the Karman Line (recognized as the edge of space) in 2004 – are all recognized by the FAA’s Commercial Space Astronaut Wings Program which recognizes commercial pilots and aircrews who have reached an altitude of at least 50 statute miles above the Earth’s surface.

What is the Commercial Space Astronaut Wings program?

The program falls under the Commercial Space Launch Act of 1984 and was designed to recognize pilots and flight crews who furthered the FAA’s mission of promoting the development of vehicles designed to transport humans into space.

It was created by the former Associate Administrator of the FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation, the late Patti Grace Smith.

“With three commercial space companies now licensed by the FAA to pilot spaceflight participants and companies conducting operations, his vision is largely realized,” the FAA said.

To be eligible for astronaut wings, which are essentially a pin, the person must meet the qualification and training requirements for flight crews. In addition, they must prove that they have flown beyond 50 miles above the surface of the Earth in an authorized or authorized launch or re-entry vehicle. They should also demonstrate activities during flight that were essential to public safety or should have contributed to the safety of human spaceflight.

Why is the FAA ending the practice?

“With the advent of the era of commercial space tourism, starting in 2022, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will now recognize people who reach space on its website instead of issuing commercial space astronaut wings. . Anyone who participates in an FAA-authorized or authorized launch and reaches 50 statute miles above the Earth’s surface will be listed on the site, ”the FAA said in a statement.

Access to space has become easier with private companies such as SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Virgin Galactic, among others, striving to provide flights to non-astronauts, albeit at a high cost.

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For example, Japanese billionaire entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa reached the International Space Station (ISS) on Wednesday for a 12-day trip during which he will perform 100 tasks in space, including a game of badminton. Maezawa and fellow space tourist Yozo Hirano, who will document the billionaire’s space flight, made the trip under a contract between Russian space agency Roscosmos and private company Space Adventures.

Prior to that, in October, “Challenge” became the first feature film to be shot in space. Branson, who is the owner of Virgin Galactic, hit the edge of space in July with three employees from his company.


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