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Rare FAA rules change means Blue Origin crew may not get official 'wings'

By
Kyle Barnett
The New Shepard rocket RSS First Step carries Jeff Bezos and 3 crew members into space on Tuesday in the skies over Texas. Photo courtesy Blue Origin
The New Shepard rocket RSS First Step carries Jeff Bezos and 3 crew members into space on Tuesday in the skies over Texas. Photo courtesy Blue Origin

July 23 (UPI) -- Federal aviation regulators have made a rare change to the requirements for its Commercial Astronaut Wings Program, meaning Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos may not officially be recognized for his spaceflight this week.

The Federal Aviation Administration changed rules for the program on the same day Bezos, his brother and two others made their historic first commercial spaceflight on Tuesday.

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For the first time in 17 years, the FAA updated its Commercial Astronaut Wings Program. Before the change, all that was required to be recognized was to fly to at least an altitude of 50 miles.

The change added a requirement that any commercial flight must also include activities during flight that are "essential to public safety" or contribute to "spaceflight safety."

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In addition, the FAA will permit crew members for such flights and the spacecraft will need to be licensed by the agency.

The changes mean that those who flew on Tuesday will not be technically considered astronauts by the government.

Another thing is that Bezos' New Shepard spacecraft is largely autonomous.

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"This is an autonomous vehicle. There's really nothing for a crew member to go do," Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith said, according to Space News.

A little more than a week before the Blue Origin flight, Virgin Galactic CEO and founder Richard Branson flew to space aboard Virgin's SpaceShipTwo. He and three others aboard the flight received their wings as part of the program, as it occurred before the change.

Under the new rules, only the two pilots on that flight would have qualified.

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The FAA, however, says that any commercial astronaut can file an appeal to receive their wings in spite of the new rules. So far, no one aboard the Blue Origin flight has.

"There are no nominations currently before the FAA to review," an agency spokesperson told CNN.

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