Policy Space

Commercial astronaut wings will be phased out by the FAA

Five months after revising the requirements for acquiring commercial astronaut wings, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will stop giving them at the close of this year. All non-government persons who flew on the FAA-approved commercial vehicles up to now in the year 2021, and those who are going to fly on any planned launches through the close of the year, will receive wings, the FAA stated on December 10. After this year, it will not grant wings to anyone who flies on FAA-approved vehicles, including crew members and spaceflight participants.

As a result of the decision, 15 passengers who flew on the SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, Blue Origin’s New Shepard, and Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo but had not yet acquired FAA wings will do so. Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin Galactic, Jeff Bezos, the founder of Blue Origin, as well as actor William Shatner are among them.

If their flight actually occurs before the close of the year, the six persons going on Blue Origin’s subsequent New Shepard flight, NS-19, will also be eligible. After a two-day postponement due to wind, the flight is set to take off on December 11 from the company’s Launch Site One situated in West Texas.

In a statement, Wayne Monteith, who works as the FAA associate administrator in charge of the commercial space transportation, said, “The United States commercial human spaceflight sector has made huge strides from performing test flights to deploying paying customers into space.” “In 2004, the Astronaut Wings program was established with the goal of bringing greater attention to this exciting undertaking. Now it’s time to honour a bigger group of explorers who have dared to journey into space.”

Instead of awarding wings, the FAA said it will keep a list of people who have flown to the space on the FAA-approved vehicles — defined as an elevation of a minimum of 50 miles or approximately 80 kilometres — on its website. It will be used to identify persons who have acquired FAA wings and those that have travelled to space multiple times.

When Patti Grace Smith was the FAA’s associate administrator for the commercial space transportation in 2004, she started the wings initiative. Brian Binnie and Mike Melvill, the two individuals who flew the SpaceShipOne on its 3 trips to space that year, got the first wings.

After the very first SpaceShipTwo trip beyond the 50-mile threshold in December 2018, the FAA did not grant wings again. The following February, CJ Sturckow and Mark Stucky were given wings. Michael Masucci, David Mackay, and Beth Moses received their SpaceShipTwo wings in April 2019, two months after their first voyage to space.

The FAA announced in July 2021 that it was altering the criterion for issuing wings following the missions of New Shepard and SpaceShipTwo. The beneficiaries had to demonstrate “actions during the flight that was necessary to public safety or aided to human space flight safety,” according to a July 20 directive.

“The FAA’s focus has now shifted to reward flight crew who demonstrate efforts during the flight that were critical to public safety or assisted the human space flight safety, among many other criteria,” the agency noted at the time in a statement.

Beyond the 2 pilots, who had wings, the new criterion looked to rule out several of the individuals on July SpaceShipTwo trip since they were not interested in public or perhaps other human spaceflight safety. Anyone aboard the New Shepard aircraft, which is managed from the ground, would likewise be ruled out.

The FAA also added a category of the honorary commercial astronaut wings in a July order, which could be given to “individuals who exhibited remarkable contribution or valuable service to the corporate human space flight business,” according to the agency.

The FAA announced on December 10 that the late Michael Alsbury and Peter Siebold, co-pilot and the pilot of the first SpaceShipTwo ship, VSS Enterprise, which was wrecked in October 2014 flight test, would each receive two honorary astronaut wings. In the tragedy, Alsbury died and Siebold was gravely injured.

About the author

Shawn Paulson

Shawn Paulson

Shawn Paulson is a reporter for Murphys Hockey Law. After graduating from the University of Tennessee, Shawn got an internship at a morning radio show and worked as a journalist and producer. Shawn has also worked as a columnist for the Knoxville News Sentinel. Shawn covers economy and community events for Murphys Hockey Law.
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