FAA to end commercial astronaut wings program

WASHINGTON — The Federal Aviation Administration will cease awarding business astronaut wings on the finish of this 12 months, 5 months after it revised the factors for receiving the wings.

The FAA introduced Dec. 10 that it’ll award wings to all non-government people that flew on FAA-licensed business autos to this point in 2021, in addition to those that fly on any remaining launches by way of the tip of the 12 months. Nevertheless, it won’t award wings to anybody, both crew members or spaceflight contributors, that flies on FAA-licensed autos after this 12 months.

The choice implies that 15 individuals who flew on Blue Origin’s New Shepard, SpaceX’s Crew Dragon and Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo and who had not beforehand earned FAA wings will obtain them. They embrace Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson, Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos and actor William Shatner.

The six individuals flying on Blue Origin’s subsequent New Shepard flight, NS-19, would even be eligible if their flight takes place earlier than the tip of the 12 months. That flight is scheduled for Dec. 11 from the corporate’s Launch Website One in West Texas after a two-day delay due to winds.

“The U.S. business human spaceflight business has come a great distance from conducting take a look at flights to launching paying clients into area,” Wayne Monteith, FAA affiliate administrator for business area transportation, mentioned in a press release. “The Astronaut Wings program, created in 2004, served its authentic function to carry further consideration to this thrilling endeavor. Now it’s time to supply recognition to a bigger group of adventurers daring to go to area.”

The FAA mentioned it would, in lieu of awarding wings, maintain a roster of individuals who have flown to space — outlined as an altitude of at the least 50 miles or about 80 kilometers — on FAA-licensed autos on its web site. It should mark those that acquired FAA wings and people who have flown to area greater than as soon as.

Patti Grace Smith established the wings initiative in 2004 when she was FAA affiliate administrator for business area transportation. The 2 individuals who piloted SpaceShipOne on its three flights to area that 12 months, Mike Melvill and Brian Binnie, acquired the primary wings.

The FAA didn’t award wings once more till after the primary SpaceShipTwo flight past the 50-mile boundary in December 2018. Mark Stucky and CJ Sturckow acquired wings the next February. In April 2019, David Mackay, Michael Masucci and Beth Moses acquired wings for the second SpaceShipTwo flight to area two months earlier.

After the flights of SpaceShipTwo and New Shepard in July 2021, the FAA announced it was revising the criteria for awarding wings. A July 20 order required that recipients to have demonstrated “actions throughout flight that had been important to public security, or contributed to human area flight security.”

“The FAA has now modified the main target to acknowledge flight crew who exhibit actions throughout flight that had been important to public security, or contributed to human area flight security, amongst different standards,” the company mentioned in a press release on the time.

The brand new standards appeared to rule out most of the individuals on the July SpaceShipTwo flight past the 2 pilots, who already had wings, since they weren’t concerned in public or different human spaceflight security. It will additionally rule out anybody on the New Shepard flight, since that automobile is managed from the bottom.

The FAA, in that July order, additionally created a class of honorary business astronaut wings, which might go to “people who demonstrated extraordinary contribution or useful service to the business human area flight business,” the company mentioned on the time.

The FAA mentioned Dec. 10 that it might award two honorary astronaut wings to Peter Siebold and the late Michael Alsbury, the pilot and co-pilot respectively of the primary SpaceShipTwo automobile, VSS Enterprise, destroyed in an October 2014 take a look at flight. Alsbury was killed and Siebold critically injured within the accident.

With the 2 honorary wings, the FAA has now awarded 24 business astronaut wings, with six extra attainable if the NS-19 mission takes place earlier than the tip of the 12 months. These could be the final individuals to obtain these wings, as Blue Origin, SpaceX and Virgin Galactic are usually not planning any further crewed flights within the last three weeks of the 12 months.

All three corporations have developed their very own wings or associated insignia they award to those that have flown in area. The Affiliation of House Explorers, an expert group for present and former astronauts, introduced earlier this 12 months its “Common Insignia” it might award to anybody who has flown on suborbital or orbital missions.


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