Jeff Bezos No Longer Astronaut as FAA Makes Rule Change

by Matthew Memrick

Jeff Bezos’s impressive space flight could get his “honorary” astronaut status downgraded as the FAA moved to change its criteria.

But the Amazon founder and billionaire pursuit of history will stay intact after this past week’s space trip.

The Federal Aviation Administration revised its criteria this week, making Bezos’s time as an astronaut “honorary.” The July 20 guidelines will determine if future space travelers can be called astronauts.

Currently, the FAA’s Commercial Astronaut Wings Program awards wing pins to space passengers. Bezos, his brother Mark, Mary “Wally” Funk, and Oliver Daemen were part of Blue Origin New Shepard’s four-person crew.

Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson took to outer space in the same week as part of the effort to create “space tourism.” The Associated Press said the two private companies are “chasing tourism dollars, though, have drawn criticism for catering to the rich while so many are struggling amid the pandemic.”

When asked by NBCNews about the flight’s purpose, Jeff Bezos did not hold back.

“We have to build a road to space for our kids’ future. It’s so that our kids and their kids keep Earth as this beautiful gem of a planet that it is. Now that’s going to take decades and decades to achieve. But you have to start, and big things start with small steps.”

The flight crew meets the Astronaut Wings program. That program states all astronauts be “flight crew” aboard an official FAA flight. The astronauts must travel at least 50 miles above the Earth. But new requirements say the crew will have “demonstrated activities during flight that were essential to public safety or contributed to human space flight safety.”

Bezos’s autonomous spacecraft had previously flown without humans 15 times. Primarily Jeff Bezos and the other passengers may only qualify as spaceflight participants, not flight crew.

FAA Talks About Bezos Rule Change

In an FAA email, the program defended its criteria.

“(When first created in 2004) the program’s focus was to recognize flight crewmembers who furthered the FAA’s mission to promote the safety of vehicles designed to carry humans,” an FAA spokesperson said to Business Insider. “This change aligns more directly to the FAA’s role to protect public safety during commercial space operations.”

But there could be a back door to getting the status.

The FAA’s new guidelines can award people who do not qualify for astronaut status but have made contributions. The agency’s Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation can grant Bezos and others that status.

However, the FAA’s amended guidelines also added a loophole for honorary astronaut wings. Ineligible people can be recognized by their contributions. The agency’s Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation makes that decision.

Either way, Blue Origin is making its winged pins. They will be for its future space travelers. According to Business Insider, Bezos and crew received the first set in a ceremony after their landing.