Despite flying to the edge of space, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos does not qualify for his astronaut wings, after the US Federal Aviation Authority tightened its rules.
Bezos and the crew of Blue Origin took off from their base at Van Horn, Texas, at 9:12 a.m. EST on Tuesday, the 52nd anniversary of the moon landing.
They ascended for four minutes before the fully autonomous New Shepard rocket booster separated, leaving them floating in zero gravity for four minutes.
It is the autonomous portion of the spaceflight that will see Bezos, his brother Mark, Wally Funk and Oliver Daemen miss out on their FAA-approved wings.
In order to qualify, they have to make a contribution to the flight and to human space flight safety while travelling beyond the 50 miles mark defined as space by the FAA.
It is possible Wally Funk may be given ‘honorary astronaut wings’ by the FAA for ‘demonstrating an extraordinary contribution’ to human spaceflight.
Even if Bezos doesn’t get his FAA Wings, it doesn’t take away from them going into space, as Blue Origin’s New Shepard easily passed the 50-mile mark.
This made Bezos is the richest man to go to space, Wally Funk the oldest, and Oliver Daemen the youngest.
So far, only Virgin Galactic pilots, flying the spaceplane from the cockpit, and chief astronaut Beth Moses, who flew solo in the cabin on a test flight, have been awarded the new commercial FAA astronaut wings. Nobody from Blue Origin has qualified.
With the Blue Origin New Shepard spacecraft controlled entirely from the ground, with no input from the crew on board, the new FAA criteria weren’t met.
This could put the entire space tourism industry in doubt, experts predict, as passengers on the various spacecraft wouldn’t ‘get their wings’.
It is possible a new category of ‘space tourist’ or commercial astronaut is created to describe those who go to space purely as a passenger, rather than crew or pilots.
Mary Robinette Kowal, the award-winning author of the Lady Astronaut series, suggested on Twitter that astronaut should be an ‘earned term’ reserved for someone engaged in space exploration and science.
She said: ‘One of the things that bother me is calling these passengers “astronauts.” Spacefarers, yes. I’ve felt like astronaut ought to be an earned term.’
This doesn’t mean they wouldn’t be astronauts, as the firms themselves could issue their own wings, with a tourist becoming a Virgin Galactic or Blue Origin astronaut, but they wouldn’t be issued or recognised by an independent authority like the FAA.
Blue Origin had argued that because they fly above the internationally recognised ‘Karman Line’ at 62 miles above the Earth, they meet international astronaut standards, whereas Virgin Galactic only operates to just over 50 miles.
This is the line defined as the edge of space by both NASA and the FAA, and so far only Virgin Galactic pilots, as well as chief astronaut Beth Moses, who flew solo in the cabin on a test flight, have been issued with FAA astronaut wings.