Why Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson Are Not Yet Astronauts, According to the US

In a move that throws cold water into the dreams of some billionaire space explorers, the United States has toughened its definition of the word "astronaut."

The new rules of the FAA (the agency that regulates civil aviation in the United States) say that astronauts must be part of the crew and contribute to the safety of space flights.

This means that Jeff Bezos and Sir Richard Branson cannot yet be seen as astronauts under the criteria of the US government.

These are the first changes since the beginning of the "FAA Wings", a federal pilot training program, in 2004.Updates to the commercial flight program were announced on Tuesday (20/07), the same day Amazon's Bezos flew aboard the Blue Origin rocket.To qualify as commercial astronauts, space travelers must travel 50 miles (80 km) above the Earth's surface, which both Bezos and Branson did.

But apart from altitude, the agency says aspiring astronauts must also have "demonstrated essential public safety activities during flight, or contributed to human safety in space flight."

The criteria for both determinations are defined by FAA officials.

In a statement, the FAA said these changes enhance the program's role in protecting public safety during commercial spaceflights.

On July 11, Sir Richard flew aboard Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo as part of a test run, before allowing customers to begin boarding next year.

Bezos and the three other crew who flew the Blue Origin spacecraft may have fewer rights to the coveted title.

Before the launch, Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith said that "there's really nothing for a crew member to do" on the autonomous vehicle.

Those desiring commercial rights to such flights need to be nominated. A FAA spokesman told CNN that they are currently not looking into any cases.

There are two other ways to earn an astronaut title in the United States - through the military or NASA.

The astronaut wings that appear on Bezos' and Sir Richard's flight uniforms were customized by their own companies.

However, a glimmer of hope remains for Richard, Bezos and any future expeditioners who wish to be recognized as astronauts.

The new text points out that honorary awards can be given based on merit - at the discretion, again, of the FAA.

Astronaut wings were first given to astronauts Alan Shepard Jr and Virgil Grissom in the early 1960s for their participation in the Mercury Seven program.

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