Bezos, Branson, and Shatner are some of the final FAA Commercial Astronauts, whether you like it or not

This has been a big year for Space Tourism, from the sub-orbital hops of Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson to the multi-day orbital journey of the Inspiration4 crew. This raised a number of questions about what it means to be an astronaut. Many claimed that these space-tourists are nothing but passengers, and calling them astronauts dilutes the title provided to space heroes like Neil Armstrong, while others said that reaching space should be enough for the title. The FAA has now put this question to bed, issuing this year’s space tourists FAA Commercial Astronaut wings, but shutting down the program moving forward.

In a post on the FAA’s website on December 10, the agency stated that it would be ending the FAA Commercial Space Astronaut Wings program. The program was intended to bring attention to the advent of commercial spaceflight.

“The U.S. commercial human spaceflight industry has come a long way from conducting test flights to launching paying customers into space,” FAA Associate Administrator Wayne Monteith said. “The Astronaut Wings program, created in 2004, served its original purpose to bring additional attention to this exciting endeavor. Now it’s time to offer recognition to a larger group of adventurers daring to go to space.”

Instead of issuing commercial astronaut wings, the agency will recognize individuals who fly beyond 50 miles on its website.

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. 

While future space tourists may not receive astronaut wings, the agency will award the 15 people who would have already qualified this year, as well as any that quality before the end of the year, with commercial astronaut wings.

Before the Wings program ends, the FAA will award Commercial Space Astronaut Wings to those who had qualifying space travel in 2021, including 15 individuals who have already travelled beyond 50 statute miles above the surface of the Earth on a FAA-licensed launch. Individuals on qualifying flights occurring prior the end of the year are also eligible to receive Wings.

In addition, the FAA is making an honorary award of Commercial Space Astronaut Wings to two individuals who flew on a FAA-permitted experimental test flight in a space launch vehicle that broke up during flight in 2014.

The honorary award of Commercial Space Astronaut Wings will go to Peter Siebold and Michael Alsbury. The two pilots were on an experimental flight of SpaceShipTwo VSS Enterprise when it suffered a catastrophic breakup back in 2014. Michael Alsbury was killed in the accident, while Peter Siebold was seriously injured.

2021’s FAA Commercial Astronauts

NameCompanyMissionVehicleDate
Sir. Richard BransonVirgin GalacticVH-01SpaceShipTwo Unity7/11/2021
Colin BennettVirgin GalacticVH-01SpaceShipTwo Unity7/11/2021
Sirisha BandlaVirgin GalacticVH-01SpaceShipTwo Unity7/11/2021
Mark S. BezosBlue OriginNS-16/M15New Shepard7/20/2021
Jeffrey P. BezosBlue OriginNS-16/M15New Shepard7/20/2021
Wally FunkBlue OriginNS-16/M15New Shepard7/20/2021
Oliver DaemenBlue OriginNS-16/M15New Shepard7/20/2021
Jared IsaacmanSpaceXInspiration4Falcon 99/16/2021
Dr. Sian
Proctor
SpaceXInspiration4Falcon 99/16/2021
Hayley
Arceneaux
SpaceXInspiration4Falcon 99/16/2021
Christopher
Sembroski
SpaceXInspiration4Falcon 99/16/2021
Audrey PowersBlue OriginNS18New Shepard10/13/2021
William
Shatner
Blue OriginNS18New Shepard10/13/2021
Dr. Chris
Boshuizen
Blue OriginNS18New Shepard10/13/2021
Glen de VriesBlue OriginNS18New Shepard10/13/2021
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