On July 20, the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) passed new rules that determine who can get an astronaut status that lets a person receive the Astronaut Wings badge. The agency has been awarding them to participants in commercial space missions since 2004, when Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipOne became the first private spacecraft to go into space. However, these are the first changes since the creation of the wings, that is, in 17 years. The new rules were introduced on the day of the space flight of Jeff Bezos.
In a statement, the FAA noted that it had changed the requirements for receiving the wings badge in order to ensure that the award is as close to its intended purpose as possible. This status was allegedly introduced primarily to protect public safety during commercial space flights.
Only three US government agencies are authorized to award astronaut titles to citizens: the Department of Defense, NASA, and the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The first two departments assign such statuses exclusively to their own employees. Therefore, in order to be called an astronaut, space flight participants must meet the criteria set forth by the third organization.
Under the new rules, astronaut applicants must be members of the crew that meet all qualifications, fly 50 miles (80 kilometers) as part of a flight crew, and contribute to space flight safety. FAA officials will determine the exact meaning of the latter.
The first and the last criteria are obstacles to Jeff Bezos' obtaining the title of an astronaut since the Blue Origin spacecraft was controlled from Earth, and the crew members were merely passengers. This way, Bezos and three other crew members who flew on the Blue Origin spacecraft have little chance of getting the coveted title.