[FPSPACE] Civil astronaut wings

DwayneDay zirconic1 at earthlink.net
Tue Oct 12 18:08:57 EDT 2004


www.nytimes.com
October 12, 2004

Now Earning Wings, a New Kind of Astronaut
By JOHN SCHWARTZ

fter SpaceShipOne won the $10 million Ansari X Prize competition last week, the man who took it into space, Brian Binnie, became the second person ever to receive a new kind of honor: commercial astronaut wings awarded by the Federal Aviation Administration for those who fly more than 50 miles above Earth. 

Michael W. Melvill, who flew the plane on its first two successful missions, in June and in September, is the only other person to receive the pin, which resembles those worn by spacefarers in NASA and the military. Only 434 people have left the planet in the four decades of the space age and can wear a version of what must be one of the very most enhancing accessories.

The F.A.A. wings were the brainchild of Michelle S. Murray, an aerospace engineer in the aviation agency's Office of Commercial Space Transportation, which regulates businesses that are out of this world, or aim to be. 

The two pins that have been awarded so far were made to order, according to the F.A.A., and new ones will be ordered when, or if, they are needed. 

The X Prize was conceived to encourage a new role for the private sector in human space travel, beginning with space tourism. Burt Rutan, the designer of SpaceShipOne, has signed a deal to develop a larger craft for Sir Richard Branson, who has announced flights beginning as soon as 2007 for passengers willing to pay $190,000 for what would have to be considered the ultimate thrill ride: a roller coaster some 60 miles high. 

Which raises the question: Will the passengers also qualify for astronaut wings? 

Afraid not, said Hank Price, a spokesman for the F.A.A. The wings were only for the pilot and crew. But how about if the pilot hands off the controls to the passenger for a few seconds during the flight? Nice try, he said. "They'd violate their license."

Why, then, does everyone who flies on the space shuttle receive astronaut wings, even though only two people pilot each mission?

For that one, the F.A.A. suggested calling NASA. 

Robert Mirelson, a NASA spokesman, said that under that agency's rules, "the criteria are more for participation than sitting in the right seat."



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