FAA withdraws astronaut wing program as race for commercial space tourism intensifies

The Federal Aviation Administration will retire its Commercial Space Astronaut Wings program as the number of manned spaceflights is expected to increase dramatically in the coming years.


The Commercial Space Astronaut Wings program, established in 2004 by Patti Grace Smith, former associate administrator of the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation, is designed to recognize pilots and flight crew who have advanced the agency’s mission of promote the development of vehicles for manned spaceflight. . Smith died in 2016 at the age of 68 after a battle with pancreatic cancer.

“With three commercial space companies now licensed by the FAA to fly spaceflight participants, and companies conducting operations, his vision is largely realized,” the agency said.

Instead of issuing the wings, the agency will recognize individuals reaching space on its website beginning in 2022. Anyone who is on an FAA-cleared or cleared launch and reaches 50 statute miles above the surface of the Earth will be listed on the site. .


On Friday, the FAA announced it would award astronaut wings to 15 individuals who qualified through private space travel in 2021. Additionally, the agency is awarding honorary astronaut wings to Michael Alsbury and Peter Siebold , two Scaled Composite test pilots who were involved in the 2014 crash of Virgin Galactic’s first SpaceShipTwo spacecraft. Alsbury was killed in the crash. Siebold was injured but survived.

The latest awards bring the total number of people who received the distinction as part of the 24-hour program, including:

In this photo provided by Blue Origin, from left to right: Mark Bezos, brother of Jeff Bezos; Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon and space tourism company Blue Origin; Oliver Daemen from the Netherlands; and Texas aviation pioneer Wally Funk. (Blue origin via AP)

  • Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson and the crew of Unity 22, which launched July 11. Pilots David Mackay and Michael Masucci and chief astronaut instructor Beth Moses previously got their wings on the company’s VF-01 mission in 2019.

Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson poses with the crew of the Unity 22 spacecraft (Galactic Virgo)

This undated photo made available by Blue Origin in October 2021 shows, from left, Chris Boshuizen, William Shatner, Audrey Powers and Glen de Vries. (Blue origin via AP) (AP Newsroom)

  • SpaceX Inspiration 4 crew members Jared Isaacman, Haylely Arceneaux, Dr. Sian Proctor and Chris Sembroski, who blasted off to space on September 15.
Inspiration4 will launch Sept. 15 from Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, SpaceX announced in a press release Friday.

Inspiration4’s all-civilian crew consists of Mission Specialist Chris Sembroski, leftmost, Mission Pilot Dr. Sian Proctor, Mission Commander Jared Isaacman, and Medic Hayley Arceneaux. (SpaceX/Inspiration 4)

Scaled Composites test pilot Michael Melville, who flew SpaceShipOne on Virgin Galactic’s Flight 15FP and Flight 16FP missions in 2004, was the first to earn astronaut wings through the program. The second was Scaled Composites test pilot Brian Binnie, who piloted SpaceShipOne on the company’s Flight 17P mission in 2004.


Blue Origin plans to launch its third manned spaceflight with six crew members on Saturday morning, who will also be eligible to receive commercial astronaut wings.

“Good Morning America” ​​co-host Michael Strahan and Laura Shepard Churchley, the eldest daughter of astronaut Alan Shepard, will fly as guests of honor. Voyager Space Holdings CEO Dylan Taylor, investor Evan Dick, Bess Ventures founder Lane Bess and his son Cameron will join the flight as paying customers. The company previously said it planned to launch “several” crewed and payload flights in 2022.

Crew of Blue Origin NS-19 (Credit: Blue Origin)

Blue Origin NS-19 Crew (blue origin)

Virgin Galactic will perform two more crewed test flights, Unity 23 and Unity 24, before commencing commercial spaceflight. Virgin’s first commercial spaceflight, Unity 25, is scheduled to begin in the fourth quarter of 2022. In November, the company said it sold about 100 seats for its future commercial spaceflights at $450,000 apiece, bringing its total reservations to 700.

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Meanwhile, SpaceX is expected to launch NASA’s Crew-4 mission in April 2022 and Crew-5 mission no earlier than Fall 2022. Additionally, NASA has announced plans to buy three more trade crew missions, with the first launch starting as early as 2023.

SpaceX also hopes to launch the first uncrewed orbital test flight of its Starship vehicle in January, subject to the completion of the Federal Aviation Administration’s environmental review of the spacecraft’s orbital launch site in Boca Chica, Texas. , by the end of 2021. Starship will be used to transport humans to the Moon, Mars and beyond.

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