The FAA Will Award Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson with Astronauts Wings

And bring the program to an abrupt halt.
Ameya Paleja
Bezos (left) and Branson (right).1, 2

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has decided to grant Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson the Commercial Space Astronaut Wings for their journeys to space onboard their respective commercial spacecraft earlier this year. Their names are now featured in the list of 24 individuals who have achieved this feat since the inception of the program in 2004. 

Even as Branson pipped Bezos to become the first billionaire to go into space, the FAA was adamant that the duo could not be classified as astronauts since they did not conduct activities that "contributed to human space flight safety." However, as the year is drawing to a close and space tourism is likely to become a regular feature, the FAA has had a change of heart and decided to include the two and others who were onboard these flights into the list of individuals who have FAA Commercial Space Astronaut Wings. 

The program was the brainchild of former Associate Administrator of the Office of Commercial Space Transportation of the FAA, the late Patti Grace Smith, a press release said. Having been in effect since 2004, the program recognized pilots and flight crew who further FAA's mission to "promote the development of vehicles designed to carry humans into space." With three commercial companies, Bezos' Blue Origin, Branson's Virgin Galactic, and Elon Musk's SpaceX that sent a civilian mission to space, the FAA is of the view that vision is now fulfilled. 

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Therefore, it has decided to end the Commercial Space Astronauts Wings program but will continue to recognize any individual on an FAA-licensed spaceflight that reaches 50 statute miles above the Earth's surface on its website. According to the press release, passengers on Blue Origin's recently concluded mission, NS19, a day after FAA's announcement will also receive the Wings. 

For those interested in receiving actual Wings for their spaceflights, NASA is still continuing with their wings and pins programs but needs serious scientific contributions, Engadget reported

However, if you are looking for a joy ride for your celebrity status or simply because you can afford it, then don't expect free memorabilia from the FAA anymore. That is unless you manage to pull off an FAA-licensed spaceflight in the next fortnight. 

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