The United States has tightened its definition of the word “astronaut” to chill the dreams of many billionaire space explorers.
The new rules from the FAA (the agency that regulates civil aviation in the United States) state that astronauts must be part of the crew and contribute to the safety of space flights.
This means that Jeff Bezos and Sir Richard Branson cannot yet be considered astronauts according to the criteria of the US government.
These are the first changes since the FAA Wings, a federal pilot training program, began in 2004.
Updates to the commercial flight program were announced on Tuesday (20), the same day that Amazons Bezos flew aboard the Blue Origin rocket.
To qualify as commercial astronauts, space travelers must travel 80 km above the surface of the earth, which both Bezos and Branson did.
Aside from altitude, however, aspiring astronauts must also “have demonstrated essential public safety activities or contributed to human safety in space” while in flight.
The criteria for both determinations are set by FAA officials.
In a statement, the FAA said these changes strengthen the program’s role in protecting public safety during commercial space flights.
On July 11, Sir Richard flew aboard Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo as part of a test run before customers could board the next year.
Bezos and the three other crew members who flown the Blue Origin starship may have fewer rights to the coveted title.
Before launch, Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith said that “a crew member really has nothing to do” on the autonomous vehicle.
Those who want commercial rights to such flights must be nominated. An FAA spokesman told CNN that no cases are currently being investigated.
There are two other ways to earn an astronaut title in the United States – through the military or through NASA.
The astronaut wings that appear on Bezos and Richard’s uniforms have been customized by their own companies.
However, a ray of hope remains for Richard, Bezos and all future expedition members who want to be recognized as astronauts.
The new text indicates that honorary awards may be given on the basis of merit, again at the FAA’s discretion.
Astronaut wings were first awarded to astronauts Alan Shepard Jr. and Virgil Grissom in the early 1960s for their participation in the Mercury Seven program.