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United States changes definition of ‘ASTRONAUT’ after Bezos and Branson fly to edge of space

The United States tightened its definition of the word “astronaut” after a few billionaire took rides to the edge of space.

According to new Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rules, astronaut hopefuls must be part of the flight crew and make contributions to space flight safety.

That means Jeff Bezos and Sir Richard Branson may not yet be astronauts in the eyes of the US government.

These are the first changes since the FAA wings programme began in 2004.

To qualify as commercial astronauts, space-goers must travel 50 miles above the Earth’s surface, which both Mr Bezos and Mr Branson accomplished.

But altitude aside, the agency says would-be astronauts must have also “demonstrated activities during flight that were essential to public safety, or contributed to human space flight safety”.

What exactly counts as such is determined by FAA officials.

In a statement, the FAA said that these changes brought the wings scheme more in line with its role to protect public safety during commercial space flights.

On 11 July, Sir Richard flew on-board Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo to the edge of space as a test before allowing customers aboard next year.

Mr Bezos and the three other crew members who flew on Blue Origin’s spacecraft may have less claim to the coveted title. Ahead of the launch, Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith said that “there’s really nothing for a crew member to do” on the autonomous vehicle.

There other ways to earn astronaut tag in the US is through the military or Nasa.

The new order also notes that honorary awards can be given based on merit, at the discretion of the FAA’s associate administrator.