William Shatner, Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson Awarded Astronaut Wings from the US Government

by Taylor Cunningham
(Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

The United States government is making William Shatner, Jeff Bezos, and Richard Branson honorary astronauts.

The three Blue Origin passengers will join 12 other space travelers as the FAA hands them its coveted astronaut wings. To earn the award, each person had to travel at least 50 above Earth on an FAA-licensed commercial spacecraft. Other honorees include members of the SpaceX crew and Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo.

Former Good Morning America co-host Michael Strahan will also proudly don the wings after his Blue Origin flight takes off tomorrow.

FAA is Ending its Wings Program

Unfortunately, William Shatners’ ceremony will mark the last for the FAA. After January 1st, the Commercial Space Astronaut Wings program will cease to exist.

According to FAA Associate Administrator Wayne Monteith, the wings program was created to encourage private space flights. And now that three companies have launched new programs that send regular citizens into the Milky Way, they’re shutting it down.

“The U.S. commercial human spaceflight industry has come a long way from conducting test flights to launching paying customers into space,” Monteith told CNN. “The Astronaut Wings program, created in 2004, served its original purpose to bring additional attention to this exciting endeavor.”

Starting in 2022, the FAA will simply commemorate people who fly above the US-recognized boundary of space on its website.

The first astronaut wings were handed out in the 1960s after the Mercury 7 astronauts blasted out of Earth’s atmosphere. And since then, all NASA-trained astronauts who have been lucky enough to float in space have received the pins.

It wasn’t until 2004 that the FAA began awarding wings to private citizens. The travelers aboard Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipOne were the first to wear the commercial wings.

And before the US government ends the program, the FAA will also award honorary astronaut wings to the pilots who were involved in the 2014 Virgin Galactic first SpaceShipTwo crash, Michael Alsbury and Peter Siebold. Alsbury died during the accident, and Siebold survived.

More on William Shatner’s Blue Origin Flight

On Wednesday, October 13th, Star Trek icon William Shatner launched into space aboard Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin rocket. Once the 90-year-old actor passed earth’s atmosphere, he became the oldest person to ever do so.

Shatner left the ground at 9:49 a.m. from Blue Origin’s Texas launch site. And from there, he enjoyed a 10-min trip that took him 62 miles above the Earth.

Once the rocket reached space, Shatner and four other passengers enjoyed a view of their mother planet as they floated in zero gravity for a few mins.