Two Virgin Galactic test pilots have received the first commercial astronaut wings to be issued in 15 years. At a ceremony that the US Department of Transportation in Washington, DC, Mark "Forger" Stucky and "CJ" Sturckow were presented with their wings by Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao in a ceremony commemorating their suborbital flight into space last December.

If you're looking for a truly rare collectable item, then United States astronaut badges are about as scarce as you can get, and among the rarest of these are the commercial astronaut wings.

Over the past six decades, the US government has issued scores of these badges to military or civilian personnel who have flown into above an altitude of 50 miles (80 km) in either an orbital spacecraft or a suborbital spaceplane, but, as of today, only four commercial astronaut badges have been awarded. The first two were given to American test pilots Michael Melvill and Brian Binnie in 2004 after their successful flight in Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipOne prototype spaceplane, and now they have been joined by Stucky and Sturckow.

On December 13, 2018, Stucky and Strucknow lifted off from the company's Mojave Air and Space Port CA aboard the SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity spaceplane as it was carried aloft by the White Knight Two mothership. After being released for free flight, Unity fired its hybrid rocket engine and shot up to a speed of Mach 3 (1,934 knots, 2,225 mph, 3,581 km/h) and an altitude of 51.4 mi (82.7 km) before returning safely to Earth.

The December flight was the first US manned space launch to lift from American soil since the retirement of the Space Shuttle in 2011.

Today's ceremony also saw Sturckow become the first astronaut to be awarded commercial and naval aviator astronaut wings, because of his previous flights on four NASA Space Shuttle missions to the International Space Station (ISS).

"Receiving commercial astronaut wings is an honor for me as it is acknowledgment of a personal achievement," says Stucky. "But it goes beyond that, it's really an acknowledgment of a company achievement of Sir Richard Branson's vision which was made possible by the conceptual design genius of Burt Rutan, the detailed design of Jim Tighe, Bob Morgan, and numerous other extremely bright and hard-working engineers at Scaled Composites, and then ultimately improved upon, built, and flight tested by the men and women of The Spaceship Company and Virgin Galactic. And these wings are really dedicated to them."

A video of the award ceremony can be viewed below.

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