One of the links in the question International Orange? is the History.com article The Amazing Handmade Tech That Powered Apollo 11’s Moon Voyage which says of Apollo capsule re-entry and landing parachutes (near the end of the article):

Each parachute was assembled from panels of material, sewn together with 3.5 miles of thread—2 million individual stitches per parachute, the seams run through black Singer sewing machines by hand. And then, because even a single flawed stitched could cause disaster, the parachutes were placed on a light table, and every inch of every seam was inspected.

Finally, the parachutes were folded and packed by hand. During the Apollo missions in the 1960s and early 1970s, only three people in the country were trained, and then licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration, to fold Apollo parachutes—Norma Cretal, Buzz Corey and Jimmy Calunga —and they handled all 11 Apollo missions.

Their skills were considered so essential that NASA forbade them from ever riding in the same car together. The agency couldn’t afford to chance that all three would be injured in a single accident.

As we have several upcoming human-rated reentry vehicles coming on line, there's going to be a lot of parachutes to fold in the not-so-distant future.

Question: Does the FAA still license the people who fold human-rated reentry parachutes? Are there specific parachute licenses for human-rated reentry parachutes, or are they just general parachute-folding licenses?

Potentially related in Spaceflight Now's Boeing identifies cause of chute malfunction, preps for Starliner launch

The start of fueling of the first Starliner spacecraft bound for the space station comes after engineers concluded that human error led to a parachute deployment malfunction during a crew capsule abort test Monday. [...] “The root cause was a lack of secure connection between the pilot chute and the main chute lanyard,” Mulholland said. “By design, the pilot parachute fires out through a mortar, and once that pilot parachute inflates, it actually pulls the main parachute out. But that lack of adequate connection didn’t allow the pilot parachute to pull out the main parachute.”

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    $\begingroup$ Apollo parachutes were not packed by hand only. "Many of the Apollo packing innovations are now commonplace in the parachute industry, including low-friction (Teflon® or Spectra®) fabric bag liners, rigid packing fixtures, press and soak sequences including intermediate steps, and the use of vacuum." From this pdf. $\endgroup$
    – Uwe
    Commented Sep 14, 2019 at 16:25

1 Answer 1


Yes, the FAA does in fact still certify parachute packers ('parachute riggers' is the specific term), who receive ratings based on the types of parachutes they are trained to pack. However, the FAA certifications (there are two levels, senior/entry-level and master) that are offered are typically used for packing skydiving parachutes, rather than for space applications. Nonetheless, these general certifications have been in existence for quite some time, and it is possible that the Apollo parachute packers simply held a specialized version of this generic parachute rigger certification. One of the key portions of the riggers' certification exam is a practical portion, which may very well have been customized for the NASA-trained folks in order to make their certifications Apollo-applicable.

Just as there are internal training and certification programs for handling machinery or working in clean-rooms at different institutions and facilities, it is likely that the specialized training required to handle space-grade parachutes is more of an 'internal' (i.e. only officially recognized within a particular space agency) specialization of the general certification. At the very least, it does not seem that the FAA officially offers a distinct parachute rigger certification for space-grade parachutes.


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