Related and potentially helpful here: What kind of badge will tourists who performed a sub-orbital spaceflight receive? but here I'm asking specifically about the US government's future plans.

The BBC's Virgin Galactic: Sir Richard Branson rockets to the edge of space says:

There's clearly something of an edge in the Branson-Bezos relationship, however.

On Friday, the retail billionaire's Blue Origin space company had issued a tweet that took a pop at Virgin Galactic's Unity vehicle. The posting repeated a claim that anyone who flew on the rocket plane would forever have an asterisk by their name because they wouldn't reach the "internationally recognised" altitude for where space begins - the so-called Kármán line of 100km.

The US government has always recognised the boundary of space to be at about 80km (50 miles) and it awards astronaut wings to anyone who exceeds this altitude. Before Sunday, only 580 people had ever been above this height.

Of course several companies are hoping and planning to make this number much, much larger; their business models depend on it. SpaceX has even suggested "Anywhere on Earth in under an hour" point-to-point suborbital ICBM-esque rocket-hopping. (Both Elon Musk and Gwynne Shotwell have touched on this possible future in public remarks)

Question: Does the US government plan to issue "Astronaut Wings" for anyone (space tourists or even just daily rocket-hopping passengers) passing 80 km forever?

  • Or at some point will they have to pass the task (and the expense) to a private entity?
  • Are there already plans in the works to do so?
  • Who makes them and pays for them currently?
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    $\begingroup$ According to WP, the FAA issues commercial astronaut wings, and Branson is on the list. According to a Jeff Foust tweet, what they received today "don't look like FAA wings", however. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 12, 2021 at 3:23
  • $\begingroup$ @RussellBorogove I chose to define them as "government issue" as this award ceremony was conducted by a Canadian :-) However sometimes it does though the whole thing is still confusing to me. Luckily we now have a question to which a clarifying answer can be posted. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Commented Jul 12, 2021 at 3:26
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    $\begingroup$ @RussellBorogove: IIRC, Chris Hadfield explicitly called them "Virgin Galactic Astronaut Wings" or something like that. It's also noteworthy that all four mission specialists received wings at that ceremony, even though not all of them flew for the first time. (And none of the pilots did, even though they have already been to space multiple times and will likely soon surpass any other astronaut in the world in number of spaceflights, if VG flies with any sort of regular cadence. They have already sold tickets for 100 flights, after all.) $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 12, 2021 at 5:53
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    $\begingroup$ Related: space.stackexchange.com/q/49095/6944 $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 12, 2021 at 13:22
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    $\begingroup$ @OrganicMarble I'll add that to the question, thanks! I also added the BBC title so the link is now visible. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Commented Jul 12, 2021 at 13:32

1 Answer 1


Does the US government plan to issue “Astronaut Wings” for anyone passing 80 km forever?

No. From https://amp.cnn.com/cnn/2021/07/22/us/faa-changes-astronaut-wings-scn/index.html (mirror):

FAA changes policy on who qualifies for commercial astronaut wings on same day as Blue Origin spaceflight. [...] Effective July 20, [2021], the FAA issued one more critical criterion: Commercial launch crew members must also demonstrate "activities during flight that were essential to public safety, or contributed to human space flight safety," an FAA spokesperson said, quoting the new order.

On the FAA website you can find this Order 8800.2.

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    $\begingroup$ "activities during flight that were essential to public safety, or contributed to human space flight safety,"..... That seems rather vague. Presumably, not opening the windows would qualify. $\endgroup$
    – DrMcCleod
    Commented Jul 23, 2021 at 8:06
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    $\begingroup$ It is sufficiently vague that some of the current crop of actual astronauts might not quality. How is flying on the shuttle as a payload specialist, "essential to public safety"? $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 23, 2021 at 11:49
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    $\begingroup$ @PcMan: This is only for the commercial space astronaut wings. If you fly on a mission from the US itself you get one of the classic astronaut wings. $\endgroup$
    – Jan Fabry
    Commented Jul 23, 2021 at 12:20
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    $\begingroup$ @PcMan NASA astronaut wings were not issued by the FAA, and current policies are unlikely to affect shuttle astronauts, since the last shuttle mission landed 10 years ago. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 23, 2021 at 13:25

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