Space Tycoons Aren’t Astronauts Says FAA


The FAA has brought Sir Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos back to earth with a new rule that says they’re not actually astronauts. Last Tuesday, while Amazon founder Bezos was celebrating his latest accomplishment, the FAA ruled that going along for the ride doesn’t make one an astronaut worthy of the official designation by the agency. It amended the requirement by requiring those who get a set of FAA astronaut wings must contribute “activities during flight that were essential to public safety, or contributed to human space flight safety.”

Neither Branson nor Bezos did any of that and the FAA confirmed they are not eligible for the honor. “There are no nominations currently before the FAA to review,” an FAA spokesperson told CNN. They and their fellow passengers can still apply to be the next best thing to real astronauts. The FAA will consider making them “honorary astronauts” as individuals “whose contribution to commercial human space flight merits special recognition.” It’s solely up to the FAA administrator’s discretion as to who gets the honorary title.

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  1. The “astronaut pins” that were pinned on both Branson and Bezos were not from the US military – they were made by their staff to add to the ceremonial (PR) atmosphere post-flight.

    Since “astronaut pins” are military decorations that require both approved training and a qualifying flight, I can imagine there was some consternation in DC about “stolen valor” claims.

    Branson was clever in using aeronautics records over the past decades as affordable PR stunts for his various companies instead of buying ads globally. Note that he’s not a pilot, but might have been a helping hand on previous non-space flights. NASA is taking issue with that for these sub-orbital flights, as he’s not trained as an astronaut. Certainly he was exposed to personal risk on those flights, but really as a passenger.

    That’s a big contrast with, for example, Howard Hughes, who although a celebrity, was involved as designer, pilot and financier.

    • Apparently, anyone can now claim any military honor they want. It’s been ruled free speech. The laws against have been nullified. Interestingly, you still cannot claim all sorts of things that require licenses by states. So claim you are a Marine General, but not a Barber.

    • I agree, she definitely deserves her astronaut wings. Kudos to Bezos for inviting her.

      I don’t think that space tourists should get wings or be called astronauts. Just as airline passengers aren’t called pilots or airmen.

  2. Right. Yhey being called Astronauts would be the same as calling myself a sailor because I was on a cruise ship. For that you need to be working the ship, or actually working on a mission experiment.

  3. Perhaps a case of NASA feeling someone is stealing their thunder? Was the early Mercury astronauts anything more than passengers? Was everyone riding the space shuttle involved in operation of the shuttle? Until now, anyone on a craft getting to “space” was considered an astronaut. Now, not so much. Got to wonder why.

  4. Ohhhhhh Noooo, say it isn’t so…I guess I can stop saving my nickels and dimes to go for a ride to win my wings…. My favorite quote from another article about this subject is “The wings do not carry any legal significance or other privileges. The FAA established them as part of its role to encourage, facilitate and promote commercial space transportation, in addition to overseeing its safety.”

  5. Perhaps we just need multiple tiers of astronaut wings. What are some other words to describe someone going to space? Richard Branson deserves recognition for leading development of the spacecraft. But the pilots Dave Mackay and Michael Masucci, who hand fly the VSS unity to space and back, deserve greater honors

  6. While I sneer at hypocrite Branson and profligate Bezos who cannot walk his talk with Amacrick, I question the claim that all persons on real space flights are contributing to their safety.

    I thought some were scientists as or for experiments.

  7. I think the word “Astronaut” is reserved for the people who are performing ‘productive’ activities away from the earth’s gravitational pull.

    Maybe the title that fits best is “Space Cadet”?
    Merriam-Webster defines: a flaky, lightheaded, or forgetful person.
    “Space cadet has been used derogatorily since the late 1970s, but long before then it referred to the rank that the character Matt Dodson hoped to achieve in Robert Heinlein’s 1948 novel Space Cadet. Other writers of futuristic fiction followed Heinlein’s lead, using the word in reference to young astronauts. From there the meaning broadened to cover any space travel enthusiast. Today the word is occasionally used as a slang word for a pilot who shows off, but it most commonly refers to those of us who may seem to have our minds in outer space while our bodies remain earthbound.”