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The Federal Aviation Administration will retire its astronaut wings program as the commercial human spaceflight industry is expected to dramatically expand in the coming years.
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The Commercial Space Astronaut Wings program, created in 2004 by Patti Grace Smith, former associate administrator of the FAA's office of commercial space transportation, is designed to recognize pilots and flight crew who have furthered the agency's mission to promote the development of vehicles for human spaceflight. Smith died in 2016 at the age of 68 after a battle with pancreatic cancer.
"With three commercial space companies now licensed by the FAA to fly spaceflight participants, and companies conducting operations, her vision is largely fulfilled," the agency said.
Instead of issuing the wings, the agency will recognize individuals who reach space on its website beginning in 2022. Any individual who is on an FAA-licensed or permitted launch and reaches 50 statute miles above the surface of the Earth will be listed on the site.
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On Friday, the FAA announced it would award astronaut wings to 15 individuals who qualified with space travel in 2021. In addition, the agency is awarding honorary astronaut wings to Michael Alsbury and Peter Siebold, two Scaled Composite test pilots involved in the 2014 crash of Virgin Galactic's first SpaceShipTwo spacecraft. Alsbury was killed in the crash. Siebold was injured but survived.
The latest awards bring the total number of individuals who have received the distinction under the program to 24, including:
Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos and the crew of New Shepard 17, which launched on July 20.