One way to tell commercial space pilots from NASA or military astronauts is by the wings pinned to their lapels.
So far, the Federal Aviation Administration has awarded only one set of its gold-plated wings -- to test pilot Michael W. Melvill for his June 21 suborbital spaceflight in a privately funded rocket.
FAA Administrator Marion C. Blakey and Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta approved the idea of awarding the wings, which were modeled after similar pins given to government space pilots. The pins also incorporate elements of the FAA and Transportation Department logos.
The idea came from Michelle S. Murray, 30, an aerospace engineer at the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation who served as the lead safety inspector for Melvill's historic flight.
About a month before the flight, Murray took the idea to her boss, FAA Associate Administrator Patricia Grace Smith, who quickly won the go-ahead for the project.
"I wanted to find a way to recognize this significant milestone," Murray said.
-- Mark Stencel