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“Patti Grace Smith”
Richard Branson Gets His Astronaut Wings, Aims to Eliminate Asterisk* Next Time
Unity 22 crew: Michael Masucci, Colin Bennett, Richard Branson, Sirisha Bandla, David Mackay and Beth Moses at the 37th Space Symposium. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
  • Billionaire aims to go higher and faster next time
  • Virgin Galactic still can’t get SpaceShipTwo all the way up (to Karman line)
  • FAA throws in the towel on deciding who is and who isn’t an astronaut

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Earlier this month, Richard Branson and two Virgin Galactic employees received commercial astronaut wings from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for the SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity flight test they took part in last July. The trio was the last group to receive the wings — FAA ended the program last year — and the honors came with a pretty big asterisk.

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  • April 18, 2022
FAA Decides Bezos, Branson and Shatner Are Astronauts After All
  • Everyone who exceeds 50 miles by Dec. 31 will receive commercial astronaut wing even if they were just passengers
  • Nobody after that will even if they pilot a ship
  • Agency reverses earlier decision to award wings only to those essential to flight operations/success
  • FAA says this is what was intended all along

WASHINGTON (FAA PR) – With the advent of the commercial space tourism era, starting in 2022, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will now recognize individuals who reach space on its website instead of issuing Commercial Space Astronaut Wings. Any individual who is on an FAA-licensed or permitted launch and reaches 50 statute miles above the surface of the Earth will be listed on the site. 

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  • December 10, 2021
The Federation Announces Commercial Space Leadership Awards

Washington D.C. – The Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF) is excited to announce the winners of the 2020 Commercial Space Leadership Awards in recognition of leading innovators, investors, educators, journalists, and policymakers for their significant contributions to the success of the commercial space industry. The United States is undergoing a renaissance in space, and the commercial industry plays a pivotal role in this major transformation. 

The 2020 winners are:

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  • January 11, 2020
Tributes Flow in for Patti Grace Smith

Patti Grace Smith, Champion of Private Space Travel, Dies at 68: The New York Times

In an email, Elon Musk, the PayPal and Tesla entrepreneur who founded SpaceX, a company that has developed launch vehicles, wrote that Ms. Smith had “helped lay the foundations for a new era in American spaceflight.”

“We are closer to becoming a multiplanet species because of her efforts,” he added.


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  • June 9, 2016
Patti Grace Smith Has Passed Away

I’m so sad: Patti Grace Smith, my older sister from another mother & the pioneering first FAA Assoc Admin for Com’l Space Transp, has died. — James A. M. Muncy (@JamesMuncy) June 6, 2016 In her role at FAA, Patti Grace Smith was involved in granting a spaceport license to Mojave Airport and approvals for SpaceShipOne to conduct its test flights in 2003-04. She was a real pioneer in promoting […]

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  • June 6, 2016