Jeff Bezos may not be considered an astronaut after his flight this past week after all, but rival billionaire Richard Branson might still qualify, according to the Federal Aviation Administration's newest rules.
The FAA on Tuesday, the same day Bezos and three others took flight in his Blue Origin vessel, released a new order on its Commercial Space Astronaut Wings Program altering its requirements that must be met before a prospective astronaut earns his or her wings, reports Fox Business.
According to the guidelines, to be called an astronaut, people must meet the FAA's requirements for flight crew qualifications and training, travel for 50 miles above the surface of Earth on an FAA/AST licensed or permitted launch or reentry vehicle, and demonstrate activities during the flight that are essential to public safety or that contribute to human space flight safety.
Bezos did achieve the 50-mile guideline, but may not have met the other FAA activities, although the agency hasn't specifically defined what activities qualify, or the training rules.
Branson, however, who flew last week on his rocket SpaceShipTwo, may still qualify as an astronaut under the new rules, though. He says he was testing the cabin experience of his spacecraft. Further, Branson had already earned his flying license before his ship took off.
Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith said Bezo and his fellow space passengers had "really nothing" to do during the flight as it was an autonomous vehicle.
Both billionaires are pushing to open commercial public space flights. Branson, the British founder of the Virgin Group, was the first owner of a space company to go up in his own spacecraft, which took flight on July 11. Meanwhile, the FAA has opened an office in Houston, Texas, to monitor the two companies.
"Keeping the public safe as the pace of commercial space operations increases requires the FAA to adapt, be agile, and remain vigilant," FAA associate administrator of commercial space transportation Wayne Monteith said in a statement, adding that the new office "will help us achieve these important goals."
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