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This article was published on July 22, 2021

US government to space tourists: You’re not astronauts

Bad new for Bezos and Branson

US government to space tourists: You’re not astronauts
Thomas Macaulay
Story by

Thomas Macaulay

Writer at Neural by TNW Writer at Neural by TNW

Shed a tear for passengers on Jeff Bezos’ joyrides to space: their trips may not make them official astronauts.

The tragic ruling comes courtesy of the Federal Aviation Administration, which regulates all aspects of civil aviation in the US.

In a new order, the transportation agency listed two ways to qualify for FAA Commercial Space Astronaut Wings:

  1. You have the appropriate flight crew qualifications and training, have flown beyond 50 miles above Earth on a licensed launch, and have demonstrated activities during flight that were either essential to public safety or contributed to human space flight safety.
  2. Your “contribution to commercial human space flight merits special recognition.”

The hazy definition suggests Bezos and Richard Branson could still get wings for spearheading commercial space flight. But other travelers on their rockets — like Elon Musk — may not be so lucky.

That sounds fair to me. Super-rich passengers who have merely bought a ticket don’t deserve the same title as professionals who dedicate their lives to space exploration.

A more fitting title may be “cashstronauts,” as TNW’s Tristan Greene calls them.

Some of them, however, may merit the honor, such as Wally Funk, a pioneering aviator who joined Bezos on his ego trip.

The 82-year-old had spent six decades trying to reach space. But she still sounded unimpressed by her maiden voyage:

We went right on up and I saw darkness. I thought I was going to see the world, but we weren’t quite high enough.

Funk was also disappointed that she couldn’t do “more rolls and twists and so forth,” as “there was not quite enough room for all four of us to do all those things.”

Future flights

If passengers on Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic vehicles aren’t deemed astronauts by the US government, it will be a blow to the egos of Branson and Bezos.

The outcome would be particularly galling for Bezos, whose rocket firm has mocked the credibility of its rival’s trips.

Blue Origin suggested passengers on Virgin Galactic’s Unity will forever have asterisks alongside their names as they wouldn’t pass the “internationally recognized” altitude where space begins.

It looks as though Blue Origin customers will have an asterisk of their own.

HT — Eric Berger

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