Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has altered its standards for giving astronaut wings to commercial spacecraft pilots, tightening the qualifications while leaving a major loophole. On July 20, the FAA’s Office of the Commercial Space Transportation published an order outlining the Commercial Space Astronaut Wings Program of FAA and requirements for awarding them. The order is the first time the wings program has been updated since its inception in 2004.
The FAA will give wings to commercial deployment crew members who meet federal rules for crew training and qualifications and fly on FAA-licensed or allowed launch to a height of a minimum of 50 miles, according to the order (80 kilometers). According to the regulation, those crew members must also have proved “activities during the flight that was vital to public safety or aided to human space flight safety,” according to the regulation.
The order’s final provision is new. According to the FAA fact sheet from 2020 June, the prerequisites for wings included to be on the FAA-licensed flight of a minimum of 50 miles and to comply with the FAA regulations for the flight crew training and qualifications. The FAA noted in a statement that was sent to the SpaceNews that the program’s aim when it was first launched in 2004 was to reward flight crew members who helped the FAA’s mission to improve the safety of vehicles built to transport humans. “The FAA’s focus has shifted to recognizing flight crew who, among other things, demonstrate behaviors during the flight that was critical to public safety or helped to ensure human space flight safety.”
According to the agency, the modification “aligns directly to FAA’s duty to maintain public safety during the commercial space activities,” according to the agency. Brian Binnie and Mike Melvill, who served as pilots of the 3 SpaceShipOne flights that went over 100 kilometers that year, were awarded the FAA’s first commercial astronaut wings. This was in 2004. In December 2018, CJ Sturckow and Mark Stucky received astronaut wings for flying the Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo over 50 miles, while Mike Masucci, David Mackay, and Beth Moses received wings for a SpaceShipTwo trip in February 2019.
Except for Moses, who was regarded as a crew member for February 2019 mission to analyze cabin conditions aboard SpaceShipTwo, all of the astronaut wings winners are pilots. Following the recent flights of SpaceShipTwo and the Blue Origin’s New Shepard, questions have been raised concerning who might be qualified for the FAA commercial astronaut wings. Virgin Galactic owner Richard Branson, Moses, as well as two other company workers were among the passengers on July 11 SpaceShipTwo trip. According to the business, all four were either testing cabin hardware or experimenting to show human-tended suborbital research. Still, they were not necessarily promoting public safety or the human space flight safety.