Virgin Galactic test pilots get astronaut wings

Astronaut wings ceremony
Wearing their astronaut wings, SpaceShipTwo test pilots Rick Sturckow and Mark Stucky face the cameras as Virgin Galactic’s billionaire founder, Richard Branson, flashes a thumbs-up sign. (FAA / Virgin Galactic Photo)

Two Virgin Galactic test pilots are now wearing the first commercial astronaut wings to be awarded since SpaceShipOne’s historic spaceflights in 2004.

Last December’s test flight, piloted by Mark “Forger” Stucky and Rick “CJ” Sturckow in the SpaceShipTwo Unity rocket plane, was nearly as historic. It rose to an altitude of 51.4 miles, exceeding the 50-mile benchmark that’s used by the U.S. military and the Federal Aviation Administration for conferring astronaut wings.

Stucky and Sturckow received their wings today during a ceremony at the U.S. Department of Transportation’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. Later in the day, the rocket motor that powered the pair past the milestone was officially turned over to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum for exhibit.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributor to GeekWire and Universe Today, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," past president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

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