Now that 4 civilians flew to space, are they astronauts?

Final Netflix documentary episode shows a raw look at families left behind on earth

In the final few minutes of the mission, the families of the Inspiration4 crew were together one last time in a room at the Kennedy Space Center.

The latest episode of the Netflix documentary “Countdown: Inspiration4 Mission to Space” that followed the mission from the beginning shows the rollercoaster ride of feelings from the families. The highs and the lows. The excitement and the anxiety.

It’s a personal look that we rarely get of what it’s like for those who are left behind on earth while their loved ones take a ride and a risk going to space.

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And there was plenty of anxiety in the faces of the families, easing with each successful step, until finally — after seven months of build-up, one stomach-churning launch and three tense days in space — relief when the capsule splashed down off the Cape Canaveral coast.

Childhood cancer survivor and physician’s assistant Hayley Arceneaux was the first one out of the capsule while her mom watching remotely applauded. The documentary series shows her mother had been worried sick from the start.

And Dr. Sian Proctor’s siblings flew from around the world to the Kennedy Space Center to see her come home and fulfill her life-long dream.

“We went to space for three days and successfully came back,” Proctor said.

Fewer than 600 people have been to space and earned their astronaut wings, a prestigious recognition typically reserved for career astronauts.

The four crew members did some experiments during their three days in space and flew higher than any other humans in the 21st century — more than 350 miles above the earth, higher than the International Space Station.

They trained for seven months to learn to communicate with SpaceX mission control and take over the spacecraft in an emergency which fortunately they did not face.

It was just about as much training as any astronaut would get, if one were not visiting the Space Station, which the Inspiration4 crew did not.

So then does that make the four of them astronauts?

It depends on who you ask.

Only one organization has the official say: the Federal Aviation Administration.

The FAA just updated its “Commercial Space Astronaut Wings Program” requirements. There are now 3 criteria:

  • Meet the requirements for flight crew qualifications and training under Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR) part 460.
  • Demonstrated flight beyond 50 statute miles above the surface of the Earth as flight crew on an FAA/AST licensed or permitted launch or reentry vehicle.
  • Demonstrated activities during flight that were essential to public safety, or contributed to human space flight safety.

The FAA also offers an option for “honorary” astronaut wings.

SpaceX would have to submit nominations to the FAA if it wants the crew to be considered for wings but FAA public affairs specialist Steve Kulm wouldn’t confirm if that has happened.

“We will let SpaceX speak for itself,” Kulm said in an email to News 6.

After three email inquiries to SpaceX media relations, SpaceX has not spoken for itself.

Arceneaux tweeted a picture of her and the crew receiving informal astronaut wings from SpaceX.


About the Author:

Erik von Ancken anchors and reports for WKMG-TV News 6 (CBS) in Orlando and is a two-time Emmy award-winning journalist in the prestigious and coveted "On-Camera Talent" categories for both anchoring and reporting. Erik joined the News 6 News Team in 2003 days after the tragic loss of space shuttle Columbia.