Richard Branson Gets His Astronaut Wings, Aims to Eliminate Asterisk* Next Time

Unity 22 crew: Michael Masucci, Colin Bennett, Richard Branson, Sirisha Bandla, David Mackay and Beth Moses at the 37th Space Symposium. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
  • Billionaire aims to go higher and faster next time
  • Virgin Galactic still can’t get SpaceShipTwo all the way up (to Karman line)
  • FAA throws in the towel on deciding who is and who isn’t an astronaut

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Earlier this month, Richard Branson and two Virgin Galactic employees received commercial astronaut wings from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for the SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity flight test they took part in last July. The trio was the last group to receive the wings — FAA ended the program last year — and the honors came with a pretty big asterisk.

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Inspiration4 Raffle Winner Too Heavy to Fly to Orbit on SpaceX Crew Dragon

Inspiration4 crew in orbit. (Credit: Inspiration4)

For months everyone has wondered who it was who gave up his seat aboard the Inspiration4 commercial space mission to Chris Sembroski. Now we know. The New York Post reports:

Kyle Hippchen, 43, said he’s still struggling with the disappointment of learning that he could not claim his seat on the space flight last September since he weighs 330 pounds, above the 250-pound weight limit for the voyage.

“It hurts too much,” he said. “I’m insanely disappointed, but it is what it is.” 

Hippchen, a Florida-based captain for Delta’s regional carrier Endeavor Air, purchased about $600-worth of sweepstakes entries before he realized that he exceeded the weight limit.

With 72,000 entries in the random drawing last February, he didn’t believe he’d win.

Hippchen gave the ticket to his old college roommate Sembroski.

Shift4 Payments founder and CEO Jared Isaacman paid for the three-day orbital flight aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft in September. Sian Proctor and Hayley Arceneaux were also aboard the flight.

FAA Decides Bezos, Branson and Shatner Are Astronauts After All

  • Everyone who exceeds 50 miles by Dec. 31 will receive commercial astronaut wing even if they were just passengers
  • Nobody after that will even if they pilot a ship
  • Agency reverses earlier decision to award wings only to those essential to flight operations/success
  • FAA says this is what was intended all along

WASHINGTON (FAA PR) – With the advent of the commercial space tourism era, starting in 2022, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will now recognize individuals who reach space on its website instead of issuing Commercial Space Astronaut Wings. Any individual who is on an FAA-licensed or permitted launch and reaches 50 statute miles above the surface of the Earth will be listed on the site. 

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Inspiration4 Auction for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital to Include Payload Items that Orbited Earth

Inspiration4 medical officer, St. Jude physician assistant and cancer survivor Hayley Arceneaux points to a license plate bearing St. Jude patient art that is available for auction. (Credit: Inspiration4)

MEMPHIS, Tenn., Nov. 1, 2021 (St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital PR) — Inspiration4, the first all-civilian mission to orbit the Earth last September, included special cargo for a post-splashdown auction, benefiting St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital®.

Now until Wednesday, Nov. 10, the general public may bid on various payload items, including a space-flown jacket with St. Jude patient art, unique pilot’s watches (chronograph edition by luxury watchmaker IWC Schaffhausen), license plates bearing patient art, and U.S. postage stamps featuring St. Jude founder Danny Thomas. Additionally, there will be vacation packages and unique experiences available for auction.

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Inspiration4 Crew Makes Evening Splashdown, Completing World’s First All-Civilian Orbital Mission to Space

Crew Dragon splashes down with Inspiration4 crew. (Credit: Inspiration4)

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla., September 18, 2021 (Inspiration4 PR) – After three days orbiting Earth, the astronauts of Inspiration4  flying aboard SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft safely splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Kennedy Space Center, Florida, at 7:06 p.m. EDT. The return marks the completion of the world’s first all-civilian human spaceflight to orbit, which launched on a flight-proven SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from historic Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021.

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Inspiration4 Mission Announces Splashdown Time to Return from Orbit

Inspiration4 crew in orbit. (Credit: Inspiration4)

CAPE CANAVERAL, FL, September 17, 2021 (Inspiration4 PR) – Tonight Inspiration4, the world’s first all-civilian human spaceflight mission to orbit, shared the crew would return tomorrow, September 18, with a targeted splashdown at 7:06 p.m. EDT in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida. To prepare for this return, Dragon completed two burns tonight to reduce the spacecraft’s altitude to approximately 365km and line up the ground track with the landing site. A timeline of activities for Dragon’s return to Earth and splashdown is available on SpaceX’s website.

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Inspiration4 Mission Launches into Orbit

Falcon 9 launches the privately-funded Inspiration4 mission into orbit. (Credit: Inspiration4)

CAPE CANAVERAL, FL, September 15, 2021 (Inspiration4 PR) – On September 15 the crew of Inspiration4, the world’s first all-civilian human spaceflight mission to orbit, officially ushered in a new era of space exploration at 8:02:56 PM EDT as SpaceX’s Falcon 9 lifted off from historic Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. 

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Weather Conditions 70% Favorable for Launch of Inspiration4 Launch Tonight

Inspiration4 crew members Chris Sembroski, Sian Proctor, Jared Isaacman and Hayley Arceneaux. (Credit: Inspiration4)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (Inspiration4 PR) – Teams from SpaceX and Inspiration4 are now targeting a five-hour launch window for the Inspiration4 mission opening at 8:02 p.m. EDT on Wednesday, September 15. If needed for any reason, a backup window is available opening at 8:05 p.m. EDT on Thursday, September 16. 

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Childhood Cancer Awareness Month Blasts off in an Unforgettable Way for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital

Hayley Arceneaux (Credit: St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital)

St. Jude physician assistant, cancer survivor Hayley Arceneaux launches into space, Netflix releases documentary on Inspiration4, auctions planned, communities everywhere team up for virtual St. Jude Walk/Run, 60+ celebrities lend support on social media.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital PR) — During Childhood Cancer Awareness Month in September, witness how the sky is no limit for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital®. St. Jude physician assistant and pediatric cancer survivor Hayley Arceneaux will launch into space on the world’s first all-civilian mission to orbit called Inspiration4 on Wednesday, Sept. 15. Communities, celebrities and influencers everywhere will also team up for virtual St. Jude Walk/Run on Sept. 25.

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Inspiration4 Reveals Mission Payload Highlights, Including the First-ever Minted NFT song to Go into Space

The Kings of Leon (Credit: Inspiration4)

Song from Grammy award-winning rock band Kings of Leon one of several items to be auctioned beginning Sept. 9 to support $200 million fundraising effort for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (Sept. 9, 2021) – Astronauts have long brought interesting items into space, dating back to the very first Mercury mission in 1961. But with Inspiration4, the first all-civilian mission to orbit, the crew will be taking not just personal mementos but things that didn’t exist even a year ago, much less 60 years ago. Indeed, their payload will include the first-ever minted NFT song to be played in orbit, created by the Grammy Award-winning rock band Kings of Leon.

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Inspiration4 ‘Go’ for First All-Civilian Orbital Mission to Space

Inspiration4 crew in spacesuits. (Credit: Inspiration4)

HAWTHORNE, CA, September 3, 2021 – Teams from SpaceX and Inspiration4 met yesterday at SpaceX’s headquarters in Hawthorne, California to evaluate the readiness of the Falcon 9 rocket, Dragon spacecraft, ground systems, recovery assets, crew training, and other key elements of SpaceX’s human spaceflight system for Inspiration4 – the historic first all-civilian human spaceflight mission to orbit. Upon conclusion of the Flight Readiness Review, teams are proceeding toward a targeted launch on Wednesday, September 15 UTC (September 14 EDT) from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. A backup launch opportunity is available on Thursday, September 16 UTC (September 15 EDT). Both 24-hour launch windows start at 12:00 a.m. Coordinated Universal Time (UTC).

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