FAA Will No Longer Issue Astronaut Wings for Commercial Space Travellers28th Dec 2021
On 11th December, the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced that it would no longer issue astronaut wings to commercial space travellers but would instead recognise all space tourists on its website. Essentially, astronaut wings are pins awarded to pilots and crew members who reach a 50-miles altitude above the Earths surface in a licensed aircraft. But why is the FAA curtailing the practice?
What is the FAA Astronaut Wings Programme?
The FAA Astronaut Wings Programme was established in 1984 in an effort to recognise space pilots and crews who have reached the edge of space — provided they had the necessary training and licenses. Another important condition to qualify for astronaut wings is to contribute to public and human safety onboard. The programme was initiated by a former Associate Administrator, Patti Grace Smith, now deceased.
The Era of Commercial Space Tourists Officially Open
So, why is the FAA refusing commercial space travellers a chance for an astronaut pin? According to the FAA official statement, 2022 has seen the beginning of a new space tourism era, and while the first commercial space tourists, including Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic founders, have received their astronaut wings, the FAA sees no further necessity in continuing the practice now that the number of space tourists will keep growing.
The FAA believes that Ms Smith’s vision of promoting space travel and encouraging astronauts is ‘largely fulfilled.’ To date, three companies are already qualified to carry commercial space travellers onboard. These include Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic, and SpaceX that has recently delivered space tourists to the International Space Station. Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa will spend 12 days in space and plans to complete 100 tasks, including playing badminton in zero gravity.
So, as more and more space tourists can now pay a steep price to cross the Karman line, the FAA sees no use in awarding all future commercial space travellers astronaut wings.