Were there specific FAA (or other relevant regulatory body) pilot licensing or certifications required to fly the Space Shuttle? Are they specific to the Space Shuttle, or would it have fallen under an existing pilot license scheme?

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    $\begingroup$ They make you take big jump, if your cojones end up in a heliocentric orbit that means you are good enough :) Jokes aside, beside having IFR rating, passed various physical tests, have quite a few hours at the helm of a jet all space shuttle pilots had a very specific training with a specially modified aircraft, able to simulate the peculiar characteristics of the unique glider that a shuttle in the reentry phase is $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 12, 2017 at 7:32

3 Answers 3


FAA considers space shuttle either a military aircraft or spacecraft and hence its rules don't apply on space shuttle.

However, requirements to be a pilot for a space shuttle are:

... at least 1,000 hours pilot-in-command time on jet aircraft

It means that you need type rating to operate a heavy jet aircraft (not light jet). Weight of an empty space shuttle is 172,000 lb (78,000 kg)1. In addition, you need the additional requirements mentioned by NASA (link above), which include education and health standards to meet.

Operating empty weight of Airbus A380 is 610,000 lbs.

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    $\begingroup$ A military pilot could have that PIC time without holding an ATPL. I think the real question here is whether the FAA had any jurisdiction over the Space Shuttle program at all. $\endgroup$
    – Pondlife
    Commented Oct 11, 2017 at 18:51
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    $\begingroup$ @Pondlife a clarification: a military pilot can have a PPL only and 1000 hours as PIC in a jet, CPL is not needed? $\endgroup$
    – Farhan
    Commented Oct 11, 2017 at 19:02
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    $\begingroup$ Wouldn't that be "the requirements were", seeing that the Space Shuttle is no longer in operation, and hasn't been for years? $\endgroup$
    – user
    Commented Oct 11, 2017 at 19:23
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    $\begingroup$ At least in the US, military licensing is completely separate from civilian licensing. You can use military experience to get a civilian license (e.g. 61.73, 61.153) but the FAA doesn't regulate military flight training. Having said that, it seems to be common for military pilots to hold civilian ratings, perhaps because they're fairly easy to get (e.g. ATP with 750hrs instead of 1500hrs for a civilian). But I know very little about the military side of things. $\endgroup$
    – Pondlife
    Commented Oct 11, 2017 at 19:39
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    $\begingroup$ @Farhan A military pilot doesn't need an FAA license at all. Indeed, they could have thousands of hours flying jets around with some of that time at Mach 2 and they'd still have to go through the normal FAA requirements to get a PPL to even fly a Piper or a Cessna. I suspect that they'd be signed off to solo rather quickly, though... $\endgroup$
    – reirab
    Commented Oct 12, 2017 at 3:17

@Farhan covers the NASA requirements but legally, According to the FAA FAR's

§460.5 Crew qualifications and training.


(b) Each member of a flight crew must demonstrate an ability to withstand the stresses of space flight, which may include high acceleration or deceleration, microgravity, and vibration, in sufficient condition to safely carry out his or her duties so that the vehicle will not harm the public.

(c) A pilot and a remote operator must—

(1) Possess and carry an FAA pilot certificate with an instrument rating.


The effective minimum rating would be a pilot with an instrument rating as this would be required to operate the shuttle training aircraft, which they would do at least 1,000 times and often from Class A airspace at 37,000 feet.

  • $\begingroup$ This might or might not be correct; a source would help. Public use operations (i.e. government operations, very loosely speaking) aren't regulated by the FAA, so it isn't obvious that any Shuttle pilot held an FAA pilot certificate or instrument rating. $\endgroup$
    – Pondlife
    Commented Oct 16, 2017 at 14:25
  • $\begingroup$ 91.135 provides no such exception for Class A airspace. In all reasonable likelihood, I'd fall over shocked if any pilot of the shuttle lacked an instrument rating given the comparative higher workload of exempting the aircraft. Operating under instrument flight rules requires an IFR rating. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 19, 2017 at 23:06

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