FAA Ends Astronaut Wings Program


The FAA says its astronaut “wings” program has served its purpose and it will stop handing out the mementoes in the New Year. But that also means Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Virgin Galactic head Sir Richard Branson and Star Trek’s Capt. Kirk, actor William Shatner, along with about a dozen others, will each be officially proclaimed as a “commercial space astronaut.” From now on, those who hitch a $200,000-plus ride on a space tourism launch will be listed on a website. 

The wings program was launched in 2004 to promote the nascent commercial launch industry and the first recipient was Scaled Composites’ test pilot Mike Melvill, who rode SpaceShipOne to the edge of space in 2004. To qualify for the pin, one had to reach 50 miles in altitude. Just after Bezos launched with his brother and some Amazon employees in and autonomously operated Blue Origin in July, the FAA decided to tighten the qualifications for the pin by requiring that those receiving it actually do something to contribute to the safe completion of the flight (other than pay for it). In abandoning the program altogether, the FAA has also thrown out those restrictions and anyone who got weightless in 2021 and applied for the wings will get them.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

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  1. So, does this mean that I will get my ‘Commercial ATP’ (or whatever) wings for having flown commercially in 2021, but the offer does not extend to 2022?

    Ah, the perks of the very (to the nth) wealthy.

          • Hate to say it but this is funny 🙂

            I’ll sometimes tell non pilot passengers during a challenging phase of flight like inclement weather, or over inhospitable terrain or whatever, that it may look like I’m just sitting here but there is A LOT going on in my mind!

            Raise this by a factor of 1,000 and you get the level of Alan Shepherd ‘sitting there’ for an orbital launch.

            For people who bought a ticket, that’s cool and I’d have had fun but there are no trophies or merit badges or certificates earned.

  2. Sigh – remember when the airlines handed out wings just like that to the kids on every flight? I was a certified Jr. Pilot on Eastern, TWA, Pan Am, and Braniff.

  3. It’s a good idea to cancel the wings so passengers don’t get the mistaken impression that the FAA or NASA were operating these flights.

  4. In other words, going to “space” is nothing more than a very, very expensive E-ticket ride a notch above Disneyland for extremely wealthy or connected people and doesn’t warrant a government awarded participation trophy.