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, 2021 at 23:54
  • $\begingroup$ Jeff Bezos and Sir Richard Branson not yet astronauts, US says $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Jul 25, 2021 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, 2021 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, 2021 at 6:41

2 Answers 2


tl;dr Branson and Bezos received FAA Commercial Space Astronaut Wings.


"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.

  • Update: The FAA has announced that as of the end of 2021 they will no longer be awarding astronaut wings. Space flight participants who fly by the end of the year will still receive them.

  • Branson and Bezos are listed on the FAA website as part of "The 24 individuals who received FAA Commercial Space Astronaut Wings" (as indicated by the asterisk by their names).

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See also good answers to

  • $\begingroup$ "Branson flew before the change, Bezos didn't" – I remember a question a couple of months ago about potential Astronaut wings for suborbital space tourists, where I looked up the definition, and the requirement for a) being part of the crew and not just a passenger, b) having completed an FAA certified Astronaut training, and c) "promoting the safety of space flight" were definitely already part of the definition back then. $\endgroup$ Jul 25, 2021 at 21:22
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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, 2021 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, 2021 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, 2021 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, 2021 at 21:43

This question is one of definitions, like “is an SUV a car or a truck?” Organic Marble nailed it with, ”astronaut is a word … anyone can use it to mean anything they like.”

Linguists differentiate between prescriptive definitions vs descriptive definitions. English dictionaries have traditionally been descriptive. Oxford Dictionary gives the history of a word along with references for how the word use has changed over the centuries. American dictionaries have traditionally been prescriptive: an authority (like Webster) tells you the “right” way to use the word (if you are allowed to use it at all).

A prescriptive definition of astronaut would be “A US military officer who, having completed all required training, completes a space flight more than 50 km above the Earth… or the training for such a flight”

A descriptive definition of astronaut would be “a person who travels beyond the Earth’s atmosphere.” Because that’s the way it is used in society at the moment.

“Astronaut” is a reserved title, like “Physician”, “Admiral”, “Pope” or “Congressman”. It means a person meets the criteria of the organization which society has empowered to grant the designation. The US government cannot designate a person a “Cosmonaut”. Virgin cannot designate a space tourist an “Astronaut”. I don’t get called “Captain” just because I rode in the passenger cabin.

The rest of society obviously doesn’t agree with me. An “astronaut” is a steely-eyed, square-jawed hero who returns from a trip to the heavens. Like Captain Kirk, for instance. That smirk. Those twinkling eyes! My hero!

I know Ohoh doesn’t like opinions and doesn’t like being told questions belong on another forum. But, in my opinion, this question belongs on “English Language and Usage.” It is about language, not space exploration. It is off topic.

  • $\begingroup$ you have a valid answer on different uses of astronaut but to make this a useful long term answer suggest remove the last paragraph since it is relevant to only two people on the internet. Also suggest finding a different example than Kirk, unless he was actually referred to as an astronaut? $\endgroup$ Dec 12, 2021 at 5:05
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    $\begingroup$ If you believe the question is off topic, why did you write an answer? $\endgroup$ Dec 12, 2021 at 20:35
  • $\begingroup$ Following on @OrganicMarble's comment, if you think it's offtopic, why not vote to close the question? $\endgroup$
    – Brian
    Dec 15, 2021 at 18:24

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