You can buy your entry into space on a billionaire’s ship. Did you get the same badge as the astronauts?

This question, kind of like “What do we call non-NASA astronauts?” And ‘What is the real limit of space?’ – is driven by a new era where more people can buy tickets in space.

And if you’re paying hundreds of thousands of dollars for weightless minutes with Virgin Galactic or several million dollars to orbit Earth with SpaceX, you’ll probably want a pin to prove it.

“They want to be like the people they hope to become,” said Robert Pearlman, founder and editor of the Space History News site. “They want to be a full-fledged astronaut.”

NASA astronaut Victor Glover shows off his gold astronaut pin from space. Glover was launched to the International Space Station aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft on November 15, 2020.


Astronaut pins have a long tradition in human spaceflight. The army has a pin. NASA has a pin. The Federal Aviation Administration, which issues commercial launch licenses, has a pin.

It could appear that the FAA pin, which is part of the agency’s Commercial Space Astronaut Wings program, would go to anyone who boards a commercial spacecraft. But this is not necessarily true.

The FAA Pin was created in 2004 when SpaceShipOne flew over 100 km above the Earth’s surface twice in two weeks, winning the $ 10 million Ansari XPRIZE which aimed to make private space travel commercially viable.

SpaceShipOne pilots Mike Melvill and Brian Binnie received commercial astronaut wings from the FAA. Since then, only five other people have received FAA wings – and they’ve all been on SpaceShipTwo, Virgin Galactic’s successor to SpaceShipOne.

Then this summer, the same day billionaire Jeff Bezos flew to space, the FAA revised its eligibility rules.

In addition to being a crew member in a vehicle that flies at least 50 miles above the Earth, a person must now demonstrate activities during the flight that are “essential to public safety, or which have contributed to the safety of human spaceflight ”.

The FAA has yet to announce whether Bezos or Branson, the founders of Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic, respectively, will be getting commercial astronaut wings for their flights this summer. But this “Are they going?” Is not it ? the narrative drove much of the conversation around astronaut pins.

“(Pins) don’t establish you as an astronaut,” Pearlman said. “You are an astronaut, by definition, when you travel through space. You are an astronaut by the nature of your altitude.

Yet this bling has been awarded since Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first person to fly in space in 1961. He was awarded a medal identifying him as a pilot-cosmonaut of the USSR.

The silver pin that NASA astronauts receive after completing their training, which lasts about two years.

The silver pin that NASA astronauts receive after completing their training, which lasts about two years.

NASA, Photographer

In the United States, the military has developed wings for its servicemen who have flown over 50 miles above the Earth’s surface. The wings were different depending on the branch of the person’s army, but in the center was a star rising on a vector through a ring.

The first military wings were awarded in 1961 to Alan Shepard and Virgil “Gus” Grissom, NASA astronauts who performed the first two suborbital space flights. Shepard was a Navy aviator and Grissom was an Air Force pilot.

In 1963, at the suggestion of original Mercury astronaut Walter “Wally” Schirra, NASA took the center of these wings – the star rising on a vector through a ring – and created its own astronaut pin. .

For more than 50 years, a silver pin has been presented to NASA astronauts upon completion of their training, which lasts approximately two years. They earn a gold pin (which they have to buy themselves today) when they fly in space, Pearlman said.

For commercial flights, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic have created their own pins to offer passengers. SpaceX did not respond to requests for comment on whether the Inspiration4 crew would get Pins.

But whether these passengers will receive the FAA pin remains a mystery. A main sticking point is the term crew member. According to the current definition, a crew member must be an employee of the company carrying out the launch. Those who purchase tickets to participate in a mission would normally be considered “space flight participants” and would not be eligible to receive the FAA pin.

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo has two pilots, but the back of the spacecraft can be filled with passengers.

Blue Origin’s New Shepard and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon are autonomous spaceships. Blue Origin announces that its suborbital flight does not require a pilot. And while SpaceX has a commander and a pilot – they’re trained in case they need to take control of the vehicle – the Crew Dragon flies on its own.

During the Inspiration4 mission launched last week, SpaceX listed its four passengers as spaceflight participants in FAA documents.

“When the program was first created in 2004, its purpose was to recognize flight crew members who advanced the FAA’s mission of promoting the safety of vehicles designed to transport humans,” said the FAA in an email.

The change made earlier this year “aligns more directly with the role of the FAA to protect public safety during commercial space operations.”

CJ Sturckow, left, receives wings from the FAA's Commercial Space Astronaut Wings program.  Sturckow received these wings because he was a pilot on Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo and flew it over 50 miles above the Earth's surface.  To her right is Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson.

CJ Sturckow, left, receives wings from the FAA’s Commercial Space Astronaut Wings program. Sturckow received these wings because he was a pilot on Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo and flew it over 50 miles above the Earth’s surface. To her right is Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson.

Galactic Virgo

George Nield, who was the FAA’s associate administrator for commercial space transportation from 2008 to 2018, said the wings were never meant to be distributed to anyone who flew on a mission. They were intended for crew members who had important tasks to operate the spacecraft.

He believes the FAA has changed its eligibility criteria to make a clearer distinction between those who control the spacecraft and those who participate in the trip.

Nield doesn’t think everyone who has flown with Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin, and SpaceX (especially the Inspiration4 mission) will qualify for FAA wings. Still, he said the FAA should consider awarding these people, who have performed one-of-a-kind flights, honorary commercial astronaut wings. These can be awarded to individuals whose contributions to commercial human spaceflight deserve “special recognition”.

“It’s a very dynamic and evolving situation,” Nield said. “And it’s good to review where we are and what may have changed since the original definitions and adjust them accordingly.”

There is an organization that will offer a pin to anyone who reaches the space. The Webster-based Association of Space Explorers created a pin this year, called the Universal Astronaut Insignia, to unite all the individuals who have been to space. It has a pin for people who perform fast suborbital missions and a pin for those who travel around the world.

“That was kind of the point,” Pearlman said, “to remove any questions about whether you are an astronaut or not. Everyone would be recognized and registered.

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