FAA Commercial Astronaut Wings Q & A

By Scott Spangler on January 10th, 2022

With 2022 stranded at airports across the land thanks to the cancelation of thousands of flights, let’s pass the time with a game of FAA Commercial Astronaut Questions and Answers. Let’s start with the obvious:

Did you know there was a list of FAA Commercial Human Spaceflight Recognition?

How does one make this list and how many people does it name?

The 30 people on this list have received FAA Commercial Astronaut Wings. Although the FAA did not provide “guidelines, eligibility, and criteria for the administration” of this program until July 20, 2021, it was authorized by the Commercial Space Launch Act of 1984.

This “Act also directs the FAA to encourage, facilitate, and promote commercial space launches and reentries by the private sector, including those involving spaceflight participants.”

To earn these wings, recipients must meet the flight crew qualification and training requirements of 14CFR Part 460, be a crewmember on an FAA/AST authorized flight that rises more than 50 miles above the Earth’s surface, and “demonstrated activities during flight that were essential to public safety, or contributed to space flight safety.”

Who is first on the list?

That would be Mike Melvill, who piloted the first flight of SpaceShipOne at the Mojave Air & Space Port on June 21, 2004. Next is Brian Binnie, who flew SS1 on October 4, 2004, followed by Michael Asbury and then Peter Siebold in SpaceShipTwo a decade later, October 31, 2014.

Who is last to get their wings?

They would be the passengers on the December 11, 2021 flight of Blue Origin’s New Shepard flight from Texas’s Launch Site One: Laura Shepard Churchley (daughter of America’s first astronaut, Alan Shepard); Michael Strahan, Evan Dick, Dylan Taylor, Cameron Bess, and Lane Bess.

Who is next?

To get their Commercial Astronaut Wings from the FAA? No one. The passenger on December’s Blue Origin flight, were the last. “With the advent of commercial space tourism era, starting in 2022, the FAA will now recognize individuals who reach space on its website instead of issuing Commercial Space Astronaut Wings,” said the agency’s December 10, 2021 media release.

“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.” There was no mention of passengers meeting the requirements of Part 460, but after reading them, logic suggests that they remain in effect.

What’s missing is the Astronaut Wings Program requirements to demonstrate “activities during flight that were essential to public safety, or contributed to space flight safety.” It would be interesting to hear how weightless tumbling and catching wayward Skittles by mouth meet those requirements, so maybe that is why the FAA concluded its wings program.

If you enjoyed this story, why not SUBSCRIBE to JetWhine, if you haven’t already, and please share it with anyone who might find it interesting. – Scott Spangler, Editor

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