Space tourism is gaining more popularity these days as billionaire founders like Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos flew to space aboard their respective companies' spacecraft. However, a new rule of the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) does not qualify either Branson more Bezos to qualify as an astronaut.
Jeff Bezos and his crew were awarded astronaut wings after successfully completing a 10-minute spaceflight that costs $550 million per minute on July 20. The awarding of astronaut wings was a ceremonial rite of passage for people who have flow beyond the boundary of Earth's atmosphere.
But the FAA has tightened its rules for giving astronaut wings to those who were on a private space flight, which makes it harder for anyone to become an official commercial astronaut.
Jeff Bezos is Still Not an Astronaut
On the day that Blue Origin's New Shepard spacecraft sent Jeff Bezos and three others to space, the FAA set new rules regarding the Commercial Space Astronaut Wings Program and the criteria for awarding astronaut wings to people who were on a private space flight, USA Today reported. That means, just because someone was in space does not automatically make them an astronaut.
NASA, the Air Force, some astrophysicists determine that the boundary between the Earth's atmosphere and space begins 50 miles up. This criterion was reached by Bezos who reached a height of 62 miles during his space flight.
However, the altitude alone is not only the criteria for someone to be called an astronaut. According to BBC News, space goers like Branson and Beos must not only travel 50 miles above the planet's surface to qualify as commercial astronauts because they also have to meet other criteria.
The would-be astronauts must also "demonstrated activities during the flight that was essential to public safety, or contributed to human space flight safety," the news outlet quoted FAA.
What Counts to be Considered as an Astronaut by FAA?
The Us military, FAA, and NASA are three agencies in the US that designate people as astronauts. The military and NASA give the title to their own employees, while the FAA certifies someone who has been on a commercial space flight as an astronaut.
According to New Scientist, the FAA awards the astronaut wings to employees of the company performing the launch. That means those who bought tickets to space are not qualified.
Furthermore, these people must also undergo training to be certified by the FAA as an astronaut and should have accomplished activities that were essential to public safety or contributed to human space flight safety during the flight.
The FAA decides whether a crew member has made a contribution or not. For the past decade, the FAA only gives the designation to pilots of the spacecraft with an exemption to Beth Moses an executive of Virgin Galactic, who performed crucial tasks aboard the flights. The main criterion to be called an astronaut should be designated as crew members that perform some tasks aboard the spacecraft.
So, although Branson, Bezos, and their crew went to space, their classification as astronauts was a bit unclear because it is uncertain whether they contributed to human space flight safety.
Also, Bezos' spacecraft was controlled from the ground and not by Bezos or any of the three passengers. That means they would not be qualified for astronaut wings under the new FAA rules.
On the other hand, Wally Funk who trained as an astronaut in the 1960s but did not get the chance back then could still get her honorary astronaut wings under some exceptions.
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