With the launch of Dennis Tito aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket in 2001 and SpaceShipOne winning the Ansari X-Prize in 2004, the commercial space tourism industry is on the verge of lifting off. In 2007 Burt Rutan spoke about the future of space tourism, “We think that 100,000 people will fly by 2020” (Rutan, 2007). With such a high frequency of suborbital spaceflights, there is a need for qualified crews to operate the spacecraft. The purpose of this qualitative, exploratory study was to investigate the possible selection criteria for suborbital commercial astronauts within the space tourism industry. Data was collected in the form of telephone and email interviews with 4 of the 5 U.S.-based suborbital space tourism companies participating. Purdue University's extensive astronaut alumni network was used to augment data gathered with five astronauts who have flown in space. In addition, Brian Binnie, the pilot who flew SpaceShipOne on its award winning Ansari X-Prize flight, participated. Grounded Theory and Truth and Reality Testing were used as the theoretical framework for data analysis. The data gathered suggests that the commercial astronaut should have at least a Bachelor's degree in engineering, have a test pilot background with thousands of hours of pilot-in-command time in high performance jet aircraft, be confident yet humble in personality, and have a fundamental understanding of their spacecraft, including spacecraft trajectories, and emergency procedures.


suborbital spaceflight, commercial astronauts, space tourism, astronaut, astronaut selection

Date of this Version



Aviation Technology

Department Head

Brent Bowen

Month of Graduation


Year of Graduation



Master of Science

Head of Graduate Program

Gary Bertoline

Advisor 1 or Chair of Committee

Denver Lopp

Advisor 2

John Young

Advisor 3

Tim Ropp