FAA is ending Commercial Space Astronaut Wings program

The FAA announced Dec. 10, 2021, that it is ending the Commercial Space Astronaut Wings program.

The move comes as the commercial space tourism expands.

Instead, the FAA will now recognize individuals who reach space on its website.

Any person who is on an FAA-licensed or permitted launch and reaches 50 statute miles above the surface of the Earth will be listed on the site.

“The U.S. commercial human spaceflight industry has come a long way from conducting test flights to launching paying customers into space,” FAA Associate Administrator Wayne Monteith said. “The Astronaut Wings program, created in 2004, served its original purpose to bring additional attention to this exciting endeavor. Now it’s time to offer recognition to a larger group of adventurers daring to go to space.”

The FAA expects the commercial human spaceflight industry to continue to grow and the number of people launching to space to increase dramatically in the coming years.

The Wings program was created by the FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation’s former Associate Administrator, the late Patti Grace Smith. Its purpose was to recognize pilots and flight crew who furthered the FAA’s mission to promote the development of vehicles designed to carry humans into space. With three commercial space companies now licensed by the FAA to fly spaceflight participants, and companies conducting operations, her vision is largely fulfilled.

Before the Wings program ends, the FAA will award Commercial Space Astronaut Wings to those who had qualifying space travel in 2021, including 15 individuals who have already travelled beyond 50 statute miles above the surface of the Earth on a FAA-licensed launch. Individuals on qualifying flights occurring prior to the end of the year are also eligible to receive Wings.

The FAA made the announcement one day ahead of the Blue Origin liftoff from West Texas. Because the FAA is ending the program on Jan. 1, 2022, the ëastronauts,’ including Alan Shepard’s daughter, will receive their wings.

Adding Blue Origin’s NS-19 crew of six will bring the list to 30. The FAA’s first commercial wings recipient was in 2004.

Earlier this year, the FAA tightened up its qualifications, specifying that awardees must be trained crew members, versus paying customers along for the ride. But with the program ending, the decision was made to be all-inclusive, a spokesman said.

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