Virgin Galactic Has Two Freshly-Minted Astronauts
The private space industry has chalked up yet another “win.” This time it came with the announcement that a recent test flight of the VSS Unity had earned two Virgin Galactic pilots astronaut wings.
Test Pilots Mark “Forger” Stucky and Fredrick “CJ” Sturckow were presented with their astronaut wings on Feb. 7, 2019, by the Federal Aviation Administration in recognition of the altitude they reached during their Dec. 13, 2018, flight. They were presented to them by U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao.
“We are entering a new and exciting frontier in our nation’s space activities,” Chao said. “These wings represent a remarkable achievement for these crew members and tell all Americans that their access to the wonders of space may be within their reach.”
As a former NASA Space Shuttle astronaut, Sturckow already has been to space. In fact, the spaceflight veteran traveled some 250 miles above Earth’s atmosphere to the International Space Station on four assembly missions Between 1998 and 2009.
The distance to the orbiting lab far exceeds the 51.4 miles (82.7 kilometers) that he and Stucky obtained during the December 2018 SpaceShipTwo test flight. He is now the only person to have earned both NASA and FAA astronaut wings.
“The U.S. leads the world both in the exploration of space and in creating the conditions for a new space age, where it will operate alongside and in partnership with the private sector,” said Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin Group, the parent company of Virgin Galactic. “While today’s awards ceremony is, of course, a proud moment for our wonderful pilots and the whole Virgin Galactic team, it is also symbolic of an enabling regulatory framework that allows for innovation while prioritizing safety. It is this which has allowed us to pursue our dreams and which will ultimately underpin our commercial success as we seek to democratize space for the benefit of humankind.”
The FAA is the organization that handles all of the operations that deal with all aspects of the emerging commercial space arena in the U.S. and they don’t make it easy on those claiming to have obtained the lofty title of “astronaut.” They must reach an altitude 50 miles (80 kilometers) on a flight that has been licensed by the federal agency.