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FAA Issues Requirements for Commercial and Honorary Space Astronaut Wings

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
July 21, 2021
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A view from inside the cockpit. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

FAA Associate Administrator Wayne Monteith has issued an order laying out requirements for the awarding of Commercial Space Astronaut Wings for trips to space and honorary astronaut wings to those who have advanced the field.

Requires for Commercial Space Astronaut Wings include:

  • meet the requirements for flight crew qualifications and training under Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR) part 460;
  • demonstrated flight beyond 50 statute miles above the surface of the Earth as flight crew on an FAA/AST licensed or permitted launch or reentry vehicle; and
  • demonstrated activities during flight that were essential to public safety, or contributed to human space flight safety.

The requirements rules out future space tourists, officially known as spaceflight participants, who are just along for the ride and not involved in piloting the spacecraft.

The standards would include pilots of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo suborbital spacecraft. Company pilots who have flown above 50 miles on four flights have been awarded their wings.

The definition might include Richard Branson and the three Virgin Galactic employees who flew in the passenger cabin during VSS Unity‘s suborbital flight test on July 11. They received several days of training, and Virgin Galactic labeled them as mission specialists whose job it was to evaluate the passenger experience.

Virgin Galactic’s chief astronaut trainer Beth Moses, who was in the cabin on the July 11 flight, received astronaut wings from the FAA for an earlier suborbital flight test in February 2019. She spent the flight evaluating the cabin experience for future passengers.

Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital spacecraft is completed automated from main engine start to the separate landings of the booster and crew cabin. There are no pilots for these flights who would be awarded astronaut wings.

On Monday, Blue Origin Founder Jeff Bezos flew with Wally Funk, Mark Bezos and Oliver Daemen on the first crewed flight of the New Shepard suborbital vehicle. The company might argue that they were evaluating the passenger experience.

On the other hand, Daemen was a paying passenger whose father was the runner up in an auction for the seat. Blue Origin said the winner, who bid $28 million, had scheduling conflicts and will fly at a later date.

Monteith’s order also included provisions for the honorary award of Commercial Space Astronaut Wings to “individuals whose contribution to commercial human space flight merits special recognition.” Bezos and Branson would likely qualify for this award for having created the companies that built New Shepard and SpaceShipTwo, respectively.

“The Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation (AST-1) has total discretion regarding identifying and bestowing FAA honorary award of Commercial Space Astronaut Wings to individuals who demonstrated extraordinary contribution or beneficial service to the commercial human space flight industry,” the order said. “These individuals receiving an honorary award may not be required to satisfy all eligibility requirements. The honorary award can be granted posthumously.”

8 responses to “FAA Issues Requirements for Commercial and Honorary Space Astronaut Wings”

  1. Emmet Ford says:
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    Glad to see they are focusing in on the important stuff. Please take all the time you need on that environmental assessment. We all realize you have a lot on your plate, important matters like astronaut wings.

  2. Robert G. Oler says:
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    no one will care

  3. ThomasLMatula says:
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    Just bureaucrats being bureaucrats in the best “pigs is pigs” tradition. It should be easy to satisfy them as the training requirements are minor.

    Ҥ 460.51 Space flight participant training.

    An operator must train each space flight participant before flight on how to respond to emergency situations, including smoke, fire, loss of cabin pressure, and emergency exit.”

    Seems this would just be standard procedure anyway for basic safety. While assigning them to a simple task, like wearing a monitor that records physiological data, etc., should qualify them as contributing to human flight safety by adding to the data base.

    This would also allow the space firms to work around the crazy tax that Rep. Blumenauer is proposing since that would count as “scientific” research since they would now be “test” subjects.

  4. delphinus100 says:
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    Much ado about nothing (remember the Pan Am ‘wings?’).

    What matters is; ‘Did you enjoy the ride? Would you recommend it to others?’

  5. Lee says:
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    Glad to see this. If someone takes a trip on a commercial airplane as a passenger, they are not considered a pilot. It’s absurd to award astronaut wings to people who are just passengers, even if they know what to do in case of an emergency.

    • ThomasLMatula says:
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      That has indeed been the custom since World War I when flying started to be routine. But prior to then it was the practice to refer to anyone who flew as an aeronaut. We are still in the pre-WWI era when it comes to human spaceflight.

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