Are Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson (among others) astronauts? Does any flying to space makes a human an astronaut, also when they are dead weight? Assuming that the definition of space (Kármán line or 50 miles) is irrelevant.

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    $\begingroup$ This is a good question and the site will benefit from a definitive answer. The question of who is now getting or not getting "astronaut wings" has been addressed in a few other posts which can be cited in an answer here, but I think this should be answered head-on. The answer will of course be "It depends on who you ask" but that can be broken down into a few cases and summarized. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Jul 24 at 23:54
  • $\begingroup$ Jeff Bezos and Sir Richard Branson not yet astronauts, US says $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Jul 25 at 0:12
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    $\begingroup$ "Astronauts" by whose definition? If you provide that information, the question will answer itself. $\endgroup$ Jul 25 at 0:15
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    $\begingroup$ What is your definition of "astronaut"? Without a precise, unambiguous, objectively measurable definition of what, exactly you mean by "astronaut", this question is basically going to be based on opinions, where every opinion is equally valid, and all answers are both equally right and equally wrong. For example, according to Virgin Galactic's definition of "astronaut", Richard Branson is an astronaut. According to Blue Origin's definition of "astronaut", Richard Branson is not an astronaut. Both definitions are reasonable, both answers are equally correct. Richard Branson both is and isn't. $\endgroup$ Jul 25 at 6:41

tl;dr Branson and Bezos may or may not be awarded astronaut wings by the United States Government, if they submit an application to the Federal Aviation Administration and it is approved. But, they can call themselves what they like.


"Astronaut" is a word and anyone can use it to mean anything they like. This question invites argument about definitions, which by definition is pointless unless it is narrowly defined.

The criteria for being awarded astronaut wings from the United States Government are not fuzzy - but they have changed over time. If you choose to restrict usage of the word "astronaut" to mean "a person who has been awarded astronaut wings from the United States Government" these are the current criteria for being an astronaut:

  • To earn an astronaut badge, a U.S. Air Force or U.S. Navy and Marine Corps officer must complete all required training and participate in a space flight more than 50 miles (80 kilometers) above the Earth.

  • The U.S. Army has awarded the badge to officers that have orbited the Earth.

    (Note that Army astronaut wings were only created in 1983).

  • NASA astronaut wings are "issued in two grades, silver and gold, with the silver pin awarded to candidates who have successfully completed astronaut training and the gold pin to astronauts who have flown in space." Note silver = astronaut candidate training complete, gold = astronaut. NASA payload specialists received yet a third version of the badge, not astronaut wings at all.

From Mike Mullane's (highly-recommended) memoir Riding Rockets about his first flight

Hank gave us a countdown. "Here it comes...forty-eight...forty-nine...fifty miles. Congratulations, rookies. You're officially astronauts."

The current NASA astronaut website says

The term "astronaut" derives from the Greek words meaning "space sailor," and refers to all who have been launched as crew members aboard NASA spacecraft bound for orbit and beyond.

(emphasis mine)

  • The FAA has issued astronaut wings in the past to fliers who submit an application that was judged to meet their criteria. Note that between Branson and Bezos's flights, they tightened said criteria to require demonstration of "activities during flight that were essential to public safety, or contributed to human space flight safety." Thanks to Jörg W Mittag for explaining this to me via comments and providing a link to the criteria.


See also good answers to

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    $\begingroup$ @JörgWMittag I saw you mentioned that in an answer you wrote (I think I linked to it). The article I linked says the change was made on July 20, and Branson flew on the 11th. If you have a link that shows the change was made earlier, I would be happy to change this answer. $\endgroup$ Jul 25 at 21:24
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    $\begingroup$ I found the reference on the Commercial astronaut Wikipedia page, but for obvious reasons that has been significantly rewritten in the last 15 days. A slightly older revision, though, still has the reference: FAA Fact Sheet – Commercial Space Transportation Activities, June 19, 2020. $\endgroup$ Jul 25 at 21:36
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    $\begingroup$ @JörgWMittag Thanks! I will check it out when I have a minute. Currently doing pc admin stuff for a family member. $\endgroup$ Jul 25 at 21:37
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    $\begingroup$ It looks like the "new definition" is actually just a more clearly and more strongly worded clarification of the "old definition", making it clear that "promoting the safety" means "performing safety-related activities during flight" and not just giving a speech about the importance of wearing helmets or whatever. $\endgroup$ Jul 25 at 21:43
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    $\begingroup$ @JörgWMittag answer updated, thanks for educating me. $\endgroup$ Jul 25 at 21:59

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