The FAA Just Changed Its Rules. Neither Bezos Nor Branson Are Astronauts Now

It will now take more than travelling to an altitude of at least 50 miles to earn your FAA wings.
Loukia Papadopoulos

On July 11, Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson became the first billionaire in space. Then, three days ago Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos followed suit.

Normally, both these individuals and their crews would have qualified for Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) commercial astronaut wings simply because they traveled to an altitude of at least 50 miles. But the rules changed on Tuesday, the same day the Bezos blasted off in the Blue Origin rocket along with three other crew members. 

The first-ever rule change to the Commercial Space Flight program since its introduction in 2004 would now require space travelers to demonstrate “activities during flight that were essential to public safety, or contributed to human space flight safety" in order to earn their wings.


A spokesperson for the FAA told the Daily News the change was made because it “aligns more directly to the FAA’s role to protect public safety during commercial space operations.”

Meanwhile, the FAA also said in a statement to SpaceNews“When the program was first created in 2004, its focus was to recognize flight crew members who furthered the FAA’s mission to promote the safety of vehicles designed to carry humans. The FAA has now changed the focus to recognize flight crew who demonstrate activities during flight that were essential to public safety, or contributed to human space flight safety, among other criteria.”

The new order does have a small loophole for those who don't qualify for traditional wings. It will allow the FAA to issue “honorary” wings to “individuals who demonstrated extraordinary contribution or beneficial service to the commercial human space flight industry. These individuals receiving an honorary award may not be required to satisfy all eligibility requirements.”

All this seems much ado about nothing as the wings carry no legal significance and no privileges, it's just a matter of recognition. In addition, both Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic have their own wings that they bestow on whoever they see fit. Still, for the first billionaires to ever successfully fly into space, the designation may mean more than meets the eye.

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