Amazon founder Jeff Bezos will not be deemed an “astronaut” because the U.S. Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) has tightened its rules on who qualifies for the honorific.
Although Bezos and the crew of Blue Origin soared to 66.5 miles above the Earth — technically qualifying for a trip into outer space — the fully autonomous New Shepard rocket ship means they weren’t really “astronauts.”
“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,” the Daily Mail reported. “With the Blue Origin New Shepard spacecraft controlled entirely from the ground, with no input from the crew on board, the new FAA criteria wasn’t met.”
But the Virgin Galactic pilots, who flew the space plane to 53 miles above the Earth on July 10, along with chief astronaut Beth Moses, who flew solo on a test flight, have been awarded the new commercial FAA astronaut wings. Yet no one from the Blue Origin team qualified.
“This could put the entire space tourism industry in doubt, experts predict, as passengers on the various spacecraft wouldn’t ‘get their wings,'” the Mail reported. “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.”
Bezos rocketed into space Tuesday on his company’s first flight with passengers aboard, becoming the second billionaire to use his own spacecraft to enter space. The 10:10-minute flight went off without a hitch, blasting off right on schedule, soaring to an apogee of 351,210 feet (66.51 miles), then plunging back to Earth.
In a status check of all passengers after the capsule landed in a plume of dust, the Amazon founder said “astronaut Bezos: best day ever.” Bezos was accompanied into space by three people: his brother, Mark; an 82-year-old aviation pioneer from Texas; and an 18-year-old physics student from the Netherlands — the oldest and youngest people ever to blast into space.
Afterward, all of the passengers had astronaut wings pinned to their flight suits.
A day before his flight, Bezos, one of a slew of billionaires who are ignoring all the woes on Planet Earth as they head to space on their own private rockets, acknowledged that their flights “are just joyrides.”
In an interview Monday on CNN, Bezos was asked by host Rachel Crane about his flight. “There have been a chorus of critics saying that these flights to space are just joyrides for the wealthy and that you should be spending your time and your money and energy trying to solve problems here on Earth. So what do you say to those critics?”
“Well, I say they’re largely right. We have to do both,” Bezos said. “We have lots of problems here and now on Earth and we need to work on those, and we always need to look to the future. We’ve always done that as a species, as a civilization. We have to do both.”
Bezos soared higher than Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson, and before his flight, Team Bezos threw some shade at the billionaire.
“Only 4% of the world recognizes a lower limit of 80 km or 50 miles as the beginning of space. New Shepard flies above both boundaries. One of the many benefits of flying with Blue Origin,” they wrote on Twitter.
And they tossed out another dig: “From the beginning, New Shepard was designed to fly above the Kármán line so none of our astronauts have an asterisk next to their name. For 96% of the world’s population, space begins 100 km up at the internationally recognized Kármán line.”
The Kármán line is named after Theodore von Kármán, a Hungarian American engineer and physicist who was active in aeronautics and astronautics and lived from 1881 to 1963. The Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI), an international body for aeronautics and astronautics that sets standards and keeps records, defines the Kármán line as the altitude of 100 kilometers, or 62 miles (about 330,000 feet), above Earth’s mean sea level.
But the U.S. puts the line of outer space at 50 miles. “It’s also roughly the altitude that was used by the U.S. Air Force in the 1950s when it gave out astronaut wings to test pilots who flew over 50 miles (80 km) high,” according to astronomy.com.
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