Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Star Trek actor William Shatner, Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson and aeronautics pioneer Wally Funk all took to suborbital space this past year and earned recognition from the US Federal Aviation Administration's Commercial Space Astronaut Wings program. They just slimmed in. The FAA announced on Friday the program will be discontinued at the end of the year.
The Commercial Space Astronaut Wings program was designed to honor commercial pilots and flight crew who made the trek to space, which the FAA defines as "50 statute miles above the surface of the Earth."
The space tourism market is heating up. Bezos' Blue Origin and Branson's Virgin Galactic are conducting suborbital flights while SpaceX is sending humans into orbit. The FAA decided it was time to ditch the wings, which were typically given out during ceremonies.
The FAA will still recognize commercial astronauts, but by listing them on its website rather than handing out ceremonial wings. A browse through the current list shows Branson, Bezos, Shatner and the crew of SpaceX's Inspiration4 mission.
"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," FAA Associate Administrator Wayne Monteith said in a statement.
Anyone with qualifying space travel in 2021 will still receive their wings. That could include Good Morning America host and former NFL player Michael Strahan, who's set to launch on a Blue Origin New Shepard flight on Saturday.
There's been plenty of debate about what qualifies as going to space. The FAA's 50-mile standard shows where the administration draws the line. Cross it and you're an astronaut, even though you might not get the nifty wings pin to show for it.