Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.

He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.

Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit. And if you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.

FAA to discontinue program to issue wings to everyone who flies in space

The FAA has decided to end an on-again-off-again program, only started in 2005, that issue wings to everyone who makes their first flight into space on a private commercial spacecraft.

he Federal Aviation Administration will stop awarding commercial astronaut wings at the end of this year, five months after it revised the criteria for receiving the wings.

The FAA announced Dec. 10 that it will award wings to all non-government individuals that flew on FAA-licensed commercial vehicles to date in 2021, as well as those who fly on any remaining launches through the end of the year. However, it will not award wings to anyone, either crew members or spaceflight participants, that flies on FAA-licensed vehicles after this year.

The program was merely a public relations effort designed to give an honor to tourists and others who flew on non-governmental space missions. The FAA is now getting out of that business, leaving it to the commercial space companies themselves.

That part of the reasons is that the FAA was finding it difficult to come up with a good criteria for awarding the wings based on the increasing numbers of people now flying on private missions is actually wonderful. It means going into space is becoming more routine.


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  • Col Beausabre

    I’ve made dozens if commercial airliner flights, I want my Jet Pilot wings!

  • William

    Elon will be awarding official Martian antennae

  • Mike Borgelt

    Who cares what the FAA issues? There is an international organisation which issues all sorts of awards for aeronautical achievement, the FAI (Federation Aeronautique Internationale). I don’t know if they have a spaceflight division yet but I’d suggest they issue von Karman badges to those who have been above the line.

  • George C

    Next big step: When does it become routine enough that there will be a federal excise tax collected?
    Airline tickets are taxed at 7.5% of ticket price, plus $5.60 each way, plus $4.20 per segment, if I have my numbers correct.

  • wayne

    from July 2021.
    (these people in Oregon, kill me)

    “The Securing Protections Against Carbon Emissions (SPACE) Tax Act would create new excise taxes on commercial space flights carrying human passengers for purposes other than scientific research.”

    “It would also include a two-tiered excise tax for each launch into space. The first tier would apply to suborbital flights exceeding 50 miles above the Earth’s surface but not exceeding 80 miles above the Earth’s surface. The second tier, which would levy a significantly higher excise tax, would apply for orbital flights exceeding 80 miles above the Earth’s surface. “

  • Edward

    From the article:

    “The U.S. commercial human spaceflight industry has come a long way from conducting test flights to launching paying customers into space,” Wayne Monteith, FAA associate administrator for commercial space transportation, said in a statement. “The Astronaut Wings program, created in 2004, served its original purpose to bring additional attention to this exciting endeavor. Now it’s time to offer recognition to a larger group of adventurers daring to go to space.”

    The FAA said it will, in lieu of awarding wings, maintain a roster of individuals who have flown to space …

    So … the plan in 2004 was to award astronaut wings only to the first couple dozen passengers? To bring additional attention to this exciting endeavor? Rather than spacefarers wearing a pin proudly, for all to see, those who would have seen will have to look up a website, instead? Why doesn’t this sound as good? Why isn’t the FAA keeping a roster in tandem with delivering pinned wings? Why don’t they have such a roster already? In looking for their roster, I came up with first page search results that only listed articles on the discontinuation of FAA commercial astronaut wings, not a roster at the FAA:

    A search on the FAA site was also disappointing:

    People watched the first two or three flights, one from Virgin Galactic, and two from Blue Origin, but how many watched the fourth flight, Blue Origin’s third? Isn’t the additional attention needed now that people are beginning to see this as routine as going to the Moon?

    Oops. Going to the Moon was only “routine” half a century ago, and even then it was for the last four flights (those after the near loss of crew on Apollo 13), when the American news media stopped close coverage of them. The first four moonshots for Apollo were exciting, but Apollo 13 was considered routine until it deviated from a normal flight, so routine that the news media didn’t cover their inflight broadcast. After Apollo 13, moonshots were considered routine again.

    Now that suborbital space shots are becoming routine, isn’t this the time that additional attention is needed for this exciting endeavor? Or does the FAA think that it is no longer exciting enough to award wings, except to special participants?

    It used to be that an astronaut was a person who is trained to travel in a spacecraft. An astronaut didn’t even have to go to space to be an astronaut, but these days it is different.

    NASA recently announced its latest ten astronauts, but since they have not flown in space, can we really call them astronauts?

    A July 20 order required that recipients to have demonstrated “activities during flight that were essential to public safety, or contributed to human space flight safety.”

    So, the FAA now doesn’t consider even those who perform work duties (e.g. perform experiments) to be astronauts.

    Those would be the last people to receive those wings, as Blue Origin, SpaceX and Virgin Galactic are not planning any additional crewed flights in the final three weeks of the year.

    A problem with this statement is that Virgin Galactic may yet train and fly new pilot operators of SpaceShipTwo, who would still be deserving of wings under the new criteria.

    However, there is one very important point that I think is overlooked by the FAA.

    This early in manned spaceflight, safety is a relative term. We can be sure that there will still be lost lives on our spacecraft. So far, every manned spacecraft that has flown, manned, to space more than 12 times has killed at least one person. Sometimes this has taken more than 25 flights to do so, but the problem is that spaceflight is not yet as safe as air travel. Thus, each flight still presents us with data in how to improve the safety of spaceflight. Thus, each passenger by funding the flight and by participating in the flight (an activity) contributes to human space flight safety. These people are risking their lives in ways that airliner passengers do not, and that risk contributes to future spaceflight safety.

    As with aircraft travel, it will take a lot of accidents and deaths for us to learn how to do it right. (7 minutes, Bill Whittle: “The Deal”)

    We’ll know we are serious about [safety in] space travel when we have entire cemeteries full of dead astronauts who lost their lives showing us how to do it right, just like Gann’s generation did. Because that’s the deal. That’s what it costs. …

    Part of the Deal, you see, is that you pay in blood for progress. If there’s no progress, what’s the point?”

    As a note: it was 2019 before another passenger died in a major U.S. airliner accident, and it was 2013 when a foreign airline accident killed three people, while landing in San Francisco. It could take many decades or centuries before spaceflight is as safe as major United States airliners are.

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